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Expressing The Future: Tetsuya Mizuguchi

Q Entertainment's Tetsuya Mizuguchi is best known for titles spanning Space Channel 5 to Lumines, and following the release of Rez HD for XBLA, Gamasutra quizzed him in-depth on the game's significance and the future of gaming.

Brandon Sheffield

February 15, 2008

17 Min Read

When people speak of the leading creative lights in the game industry, Q Entertainment's Tetsuya Mizuguchi's name inevitably comes up. Soft-spoken and contemplative, the game designer - particularly known for working on titles such as Space Channel 5 and Sega Rally while at Sega, and Lumines and Meteos at his own company Q Entertainment - is recently most famous for melding music into interactive experiences.

Following the re-release of underappreciated six-year-old classic Rez onto the Xbox Live Marketplace, he may be free to move forward into new concepts once again. In this in-depth Gamasutra interview, the designer firstly discusses the creation of Rez HD for XBLA, before discussing the future of games - from his unique perspective - in fascinating detail.

Brandon Sheffield: I know it was previously stated that, for Rez HD, nothing was really being changed, aside from the 5.1 Surround and the HD stuff. But it has much more Trance Vibration now -- because only one was supported previously. How did you go about redesigning that, and what corresponds to what, in music? How do you make that happen, how the Trance Vibration works in three controllers. What corresponds to what action?

Tetsuya Mizuguchi: I think it was somebody's idea. Who, I don't know. We had a discussion, just brainstorming with the present team. So we had some opinions and ideas from one of us, "If we used the controller as the Trance Vibrator, it would be good." "Oh, that's a good idea!" Because every controller has the vibration.

The original Rez needed a [separate peripheral] Trance Vibrator, but it was so serious to me. I wanted to make kind of a sensory experience, with not only visuals and sounds. The vibration and the stimulation is very important. If you go to a club, you see the light, and you feel the music pound. Not only hands... if we could make the vibration independently. You must feel the dimension, the panorama feeling of this idea.

BS: So how do you figure out what on the controller is corresponding to what in the game?

TM: You have a controller in hands, and others. I think controller held in the hands, you can feel a pulse on top of the beat, like a bass drum. The other controllers react with like a hi-hat, or with the other sounds. That kind of feeling... it's driving the feeling all the time. I think they will be like that all the time.

We feel the same stimulation from the hands, like the pressure of air, or the pressure of sounds. I think the goal of the Rez experience is that everything is moving and activating with music, like a MIDI controller. It's like a synthesizer. Not only sounds, but in the visuals it crafts, and vibration.

BS: Is there an ideal situation for each controller, like in the 1, 2, or 3 slot? Is it best to have one on your back and one on your foot and one somewhere else? Is there a perfect situation to feel a full-body experience?

TM: I'd like to step on one -- I think the distance from my hands is the farthest place. I feel some space.

I think if one is under my foot, and the other one is on my back, and maybe if I have one more, it can go like... I don't know. I know some people did like that. (laughs) I don't know whether this is good or bad, but I think the back is really effective.

BS: There don't seem to be a lot of changes, really, from the earlier version of this game.

We wanted to make a complete Rez. I tried not to change anything -- just only high-resolution textures and engineering sounds. So no, in the near future.

BS: It was also part of the license deal with Sega, right?

TM: Yeah, we got a license from Sega. Because this is a six-year-old game, it's taken time. But I think the experience is still fresh, and if we get a resurrection on the new console, it's very effective for Rez. I've been pleased to make Rez on XBLA.


CN: I think it makes more sense now. You know, as an XBLA game, at a time when people are playing shorter games. I said to Brandon earlier today that I probably originally played Rez for, let's say, between three and five hours. But it was an amazing three to five hours. It was great. I really love this game, even though I haven't played it for years, and I'm really looking forward to it. I'll buy it right away when it comes out. I think it fits really well, when at the time, it was actually sort of too different.

TM: Thank you very much. I have to thank you... I think Rez is not a simple game. It looks simple, but it looks abstract, and artistic, maybe. I think six years ago, people had to buy a package, so I think there was a big challenge there. You had to pay 40 or 50 dollars. Now, on XBLA, you can play easily, and play a trial, and buy [it] immediately if you like. We keep the costs not high -- not expensive -- and there's not much other cost. There's no transportation cost.

I have to thank people like journalists who've tried to explain, "What is Rez?" It's really difficult to explain, and has been for five or six years. I'm really happy, because I had that kind of advantage of people with Rez. The Internet and blog culture helped, also.

BS: As we discussed last time, it's definitely not simple, especially if you look at it as a critique of Kandinsky, which we talked about last time. Since it traverses the opposite path of Kandinsky's art career, which I think was really interesting. It's too bad that most people won't get to realize that. I got to look at a timeline of his art, and how it went from realism to abstract. It was so clear that this was the reverse of that, and it was traveling back down in the other direction. It's too bad that not everyone will realize that.

TM: Yeah. [To be successful] we needed a mass-market title, a realistic game, like a scroller, or racing, fighting, or adventure. I think we have to succeed this kind of game with something [else]. I got a big inspiration from Kandinsky, but I think... not [directly in] the game, but it's a very strong concept inspiration in the creation [process], all the time. If we never had the main [inspirational] effort like that, I think there would be something wrong.

BS: What other artist do you think one could draw inspiration from, for a game like this? Like, other kind of kinetic artists, like maybe Jackson Pollock? Do you think it's worth visiting another artist as well for a future title?

TM: I don't have any [of those] inspirational paths now, because I'm always watching the other industries and other media. I think in the next five or 10 years, I think the barriers or the hurdles will be breaking and melding, and making some new chemistry within the entertainment industry.

I think interactive media is really difficult to create -- a fun, interactive experience. I think that we have a chance. "We," means us, game developers or creators in this industry, leading the new era, and connecting with the other media.

BS: I think it would be great to see a Dadaist game, or a cubist game, or something like that. It seems like it would be really... you could almost teach people art history through games. It'd be really cool. I think since the power of the systems are to the point where you could actually do it, and deconstruct this kind of thing.

TM: Even with the movie industry, they have had a long history, like over 100 years. And the many movies from Hollywood are mass productions, but there are many, many, many independent films, and they're changing the meaning of expression. It's a new challenge.

I think this would be a good balance, especially if you have that kind of balance, because I think the game industry is still a baby industry -- just 40 years. I think in the next 10, 20, or 30 years... I can't imagine the future, because if you watch the visuals, it's so real, but it's fictional, like CG computer graphics. But you can't [tell] if it's real. Then, what do you do? I think if you have a strong concept or skill, then yeah, you could do it.


BS: It seems like once things get so real, then the best thing to do is deconstruct it and focus on pieces. Have you seen any of the indie art genre-type games like Night Journey?

TM: No.

BS: It's done with an experimental artist in collaboration. You just slowly walk through this 3D world, and you're in a dream, and there are certain objects that you can look at and interact with. As you do, these movies play and stream in and out and sort of guide you through the world, and more things start to happen. It's really like walking through an art piece.

TM: Yeah, that kind of experiment, I think was done with many people, like George Lucas. Even Lucas, he had an experiment movie he made - THX 1138. I think we need that kind of experience with range. I want to make this kind of game. I want to make a new game for reaching the mass of people. But we need a wider range.

CN: What strikes me about Rez is that it's very deep but kind of small, whereas a lot of games are very shallow but broad, if you follow what I'm saying. Like a big, mass-market shooter will have a lot of content that's very simple but fun, and this has a lot of thought and artistry that gets put in this game, but it's kind of small. There's a contrast there in technique. Is that a different conscious approach you see? Like, taking these different approaches, different possibilities for how you can make a game?

TM: Yes. I think in a consciousness, I am working like that all the time. But I think the mass-market game... there is a format already. This format is safe, for developers and publishers and customers, too.

The game itself, as media, is different from movies. In movies, you have a format. This kind of resolution, this kind of screen size, and maybe two hours... less than three hours, anyway. This is the point of view. The third point of view. Somebody watching you, and somebody watching the actors. Who is this? Everybody knows. This is kind of a promise...

CN: A convention.

TM: Yeah, of the consciousness. Everybody doesn't care about that. But I think there is history in movies, a long history, versus 30 or 40 years. No drama at all -- just the magic they used. [At first, something would simply fly by], and going "whoa," like that. (Mizuguchi gestures.)

But somebody picked a story, and somebody picked the actors, and somebody gave direction, and a producer came and expanded. With a game, there's no format yet. I think there's kind of a freedom, so we can do anything in an interactive, digital way.

BS: Games and movies and even art, like Picasso or something, is trying to recreate 3D space in a 2D plane. Movies, paintings and games are all flat. But it gives the illusion of third dimension. Actually, I guess I don't have a question, but something you said made me want to say that.

TM: I was thinking about the point of view, all the time. In a movie, the point of view... I've never seen an all-first person movie, like that.

BS: There's been some.

TM: But almost all movies edit the point of view. In a game, some games are third point of view, but essentially, this is a first-person point of view. Most of the games, because it's an experience. I think about how we can design the experience... if we had a new point of view, I think a new consciousness would come in all the time.

BS: Do you think we'll ever have one, unified format for games? With movies, there's not just the set kind of conventions of time limit, but there's also... you use this kind of projector, this kind of film stock, and you have 16:9. It's all set. It's a standard format. But in games, it can be anything. Like when you make a mobile game, you have to make 10 different versions, because all of the screen sizes are different. Or when you make a game like this, you still have to be able to play it on standard definition as well as HD. Do you think it will ever unify? Like, a game format...just the conventions of how it's presented.

TM: I don't think so. Some game platforms are 16:9, but some platforms like the Nintendo DS are 4:3 dual screens, and touch games and things. And they've got the momentum. So I think the mainstream is like that, but the other one exists all the time. I think even arcade games present a format. I started my career from the arcade side, so my concept is always... I don't care about the format, so whatever's here and new is the experience.

BS: Unfortunately, you don't have as much freedom as in the arcade days to redesign the format each time, because with consoles, you have limited choices. You can do 360, PS3, DS and PSP... they all have certain conventions. Do you think there's any way to flip that and create a new type of paradigm? Say, with the PSP, some games have you play it vertically. Something like that, can that be done in the console space?

CN: I think you're toying with that with the Trance Vibrator, right? Using a function of the system in a way that probably has never been done before, and may never be done again, actually.

TM: Yeah. I think so. We need platforms now. Last generation, like PS2 and Dreamcast, we had only three. But now, I don't know how many there are. PSP, DS, mobile phone, PC... you know. I think we have many devices in our life, and I think that the game-free format... I think the next era, whoever has the big hardware, anyway, on a screen or not, we're always having some data. I don't know. Inside the body?

BS: Do you think it will always be attached to us somehow? Will we always have some form of entertainment with us?

TM: Not only entertainment, but we have a lot of data, anyway. Then we can connect. The next, next era, we may not have the hard disc anymore, because somewhere there are huge hard drives, and they just connect.

BS: Speaking of the arcade era, wanting to make mass-market games too, have you finally played the new Sega Rally?

TM: No.

BS: You hadn't last time. You still haven't?

TM: Yeah. I just watched.

BS: I was just wondering if you felt any connection. If you played it, would you be like, "I could've done this better!" or something like that?

TM: No. (laughs) What was it, 15 years ago?

BS: Yeah. I know. But there's still some connection. It's kind of like your baby.


CN: One thing I want to ask about, and this is kind of... I remember way back when, I might have the timing wrong. It was either right at the end of when you were at Sega, or maybe the beginning of Q. Some time in there. There was a comment about that you'd like to make a more serious game, like an RPG next, or something like that. Have you given that kind of game more thought, the kind of more traditional game? Or are you still interested in making more experimental games?

TM: I still have the foundation here to create that kind of genre. But if I had a chance to make an RPG or an adventure, or whatever, I would put some new elements in it. So if I had the inspiration, yeah, I would start.

CN: I think those genres could use new elements, too. They could use some inspiration.

BS: That last project that you were finishing up at the end of the Sega time, [Q staffer] Reo Yonaga mentioned that someday you might revisit that. Have you thought about that recently?

TM: Reo said?

BS: He said that you might go back to this concept that you are all making, at the end of... right before the Sega thing fell apart, it was an adventure game starring a girl. Have you thought about going back to that yet?

TM: Yeah. All the time. At the time, five or six years ago, I headed a big division [at Sega]. But the platform power was low at the time. But now, yeah. It's getting easier.

BS: Can you explain more about the concept of what it was at the time?

TM: I tried to combine drama story challenges into the game. Very simple. I think many games are doing that. But I think the challenge... it was just an idea. The most challenging part was an idea. It's really difficult to explain.

BS: It seems to be a very exciting idea for the both of you, when I talked to you separately about it. So I've been very curious to know what it is that's so compelling about this idea that makes you continually revisit the concept. There must be some feeling that it has that makes you want to bring it back.

TM: It's hard to answer the question.

BS: I'm wondering what is so appealing about this idea. I know it's hard to explain, but maybe you can try.

TM: I think most dramatic and thematic games exist, and it's really hard. This is for an example: it's really hard to cry if you play a game. You can cry when you watch movies. I have, and everyone has that kind of experience. This is an emotional movement, very strong. But we can't cry when we play a game. This is a different catharsis. This is a physical reason. This is like a basic instinct. I think the game is designed as an experience. It's designed as a catharsis experience.

You have some accomplishments all the time, but accomplishment is a very strong keyword. It's a very strong factor of the game. I think in our 40 year history, we may [continually] redesign this, maybe. But in the last five years, you can get the resolution. This kind of resolution makes you have a very effective emotional possibility, with music, effects, hi-def movie effects. I think there can be growing, growing, and growing. There's some games coming in that class.

BS: Some games are certainly trying for more emotional depth. How do you think that you could take it to the next step? How do you think that you could make people actually feel deeper things?

TM: It's really hard to tell. I have to prove something.

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About the Author(s)

Brandon Sheffield


Brandon Sheffield is creative director of Necrosoft Games, former editor of Game Developer magazine and gamasutra.com, and advisor for GDC, DICE, and other conferences. He frequently participates in game charity bundles and events.

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