Konami's Shingo Mukaitoge is a rising star within the Japanese-headquartered developer -- having spearheaded the company's development of original Wii titles with original IP titles Elebits and, more recently, Dewy's Adventure.
Gamasutra recently had a chance to sit down with Mukaitoge for an exclusive in-depth interview about how he got his start in the video game business, the development of Dewy, how the ideas for those two original Wii games formed, and what the future has in store for his team.
How did you get into Konami from the start, and start working on games?
Shingo Mukaitoge: That's a deep question, somehow! I studied architecture in college. I used 3D CAD in architecture, maybe because I loved games, and I think maybe that's why I became interested in 3D games, and the way they moved. I started with a small company for video games.
SM: It's small, so I don't want to say the company's name.
But it's always fun to know!
SM: I couldn't do what I wanted to do at that company, which is why I moved to Konami.
When you were studying architecture, did you actually complete any projects in architecture, or did you leave before that? Did you work at an architecture company?
SM: I only studied, I didn't get to design anything real.
What games have you worked on at Konami?
SM: When I first entered, I did Puzzle Dama [Ed. note: Konami's long-running puzzle series in Japan, which borrowed themes from its other series, such as Twinbee or Tokimeki Memorial.] This one was Pop'n Music Puzzle Dama. I was a director. Then I did an anime title.
Then I went onto Bemani production as a software producer, for Beatmania, Guitar Freaks, and Drummania, all the console versions. Then I did some proper Pop'n Music games. I don't really remember which ones exactly, but I think it was Pop'n Music 11, 12, and 13 for PlayStation 2? Then there was Elebits and Dewy's Adventure.
What was the thing in college at that small company that you wanted to do, and have you done it yet?
SM: I wanted to make my own original game, but at small companies like the one I started in, the publisher says, "Hey, make this game." So I had to follow that order. I left the company because I wanted to make my game. But of course I couldn't make my own game right away at Konami either. Elebits was my first original game.
That was my guess. So it took like ten years to get your wish?
SM: More like five or six years.
That's not too bad, I suppose. One thing that I think is interesting is that you haven't really worked on a game yet that has huge buildings, even though you were an architectural student. Though Elebits comes close.
SM: While I studied it in college, it's not reflected in my video games! I was actually really not well suited for architecture! (laughs)
That makes sense, then! How did you go about creating your own IP?
SM: Instead of ordering a team, "Hey, make this game," what I did was to make every team member think about games and ideas, so that they can incorporate their own ideas.
So trying to fix the problems in the past with people telling you what to do?
SM: Yeah, maybe. They're making their game, instead of making my game, hopefully they all feel that.
Sounds like you're a good boss!
SM: Thanks! (laughs)
You mentioned with Elebits you wanted to do more with making the Elebits have more character, and doing more interactive things like when you could put them in the toaster, or the different sounds they make when they walk under things. Have you been able to do that kind of stuff with Dewy?
SM: Dewy has many interactive gimmicks. Dewy's Adventure is a slightly different approach than Elebits, of course. In Dewy's Adventure, you have to do something through gimmicks that already exist to solve puzzles and proceed. That is a difference in interactivity in Dewy's Adventure.
It's a very different perspective, because in Elebits, the user is the main character. In Dewy's Adventure, Dewy is the main character. Why did you decide to do that?
SM: I don't think it was really that conscious. At first, my team and I focused on how to utilize the Wii Remote for control -- that was the main thing. The starting point for Dewy's Adventure and Elebits were basically the same.
We had a few concepts for Wii games, based on what you could do with the controller -- one was for Elebits, and one was Dewy's Adventure. We picked Elebits to be made first, but Dewy's Adventure's concept already existed.
It seems like you are at the front of Konami's Wii development. Is that your personal choice?
SM: To be honest, I was asked by my boss to make something new for the Wii.
It seems that Elebits is slightly more popular in the U.S. than in Japan. Do you have any idea why that might be?
SM: Well I've found that mysterious myself, as well, but the Japanese market tends to purchase games that already have previous versions, like franchise games, instead of original ones. Maybe that is one of the reasons. It's not a good thing though...
That definitely seems true. It's hard to try something new. But at the same time, Castlevania sells way better in the U.S. than in Japan, and it's a very established franchise.
SM: In Japan, the action genre is not that popular. Maybe Japanese gamers don't like the action genre.
This just came to me, but do you know Ghostbusters?
SM: Yeah, I do. I used to watch it as a kid!
It seems like Elebits is the closest thing to a Ghostbusters game.
SM: It's often said, yeah. My team members were also saying that, using vacuum items and things.
Yeah. Konami should get the Ghostbusters license for a Wii game!
SM: So you want us to make a Wii Ghostbusters game?
Yeah! You should do it. It would be great. It would sell very well, I think. [It's since been announced that U.S. studio Red Fly is working on a version of Ghostbusters for the Wii.] What's next after Dewy? Another original game, or sequel, or what?
SM: Ah, that question arrives. And yeah, I won't tell you! (laughs) I'm working on a new game. I can't tell you what it is. Sometime next year, like spring.
You can't announce the platform or anything?
SM: No, I can't. But I can say that it's the Dewy's and Elebits team that's making my next game.
I really liked the illustrations from Elebits. That's why we used it on the cover of Game Developer magazine. Do you think you could ever make a game in the style of that art? It would probably have to be next-gen hardware. Could you make a game that actually looks like that?
SM: It's would be really difficult for us to make that into a game, but that is a thing I'd like to try once, the new hardware.
I really liked the storybook feeling. It has a nostalgic storybook feeling. What's interesting is that it's all soft colors -- with a lot of pink and flowing stuff -- I loved it, but my female co-worker did not. It was a reverse of my expectation.
SM: Oh? That's surprising. In Japan they like it, and when I went to Germany for the Leipzig show, there were lots of female fans of Elebits.
I guess she's just different! Referring to what you said before about wanting to do a new game, was it just that you wanted to work on original stuff in general, or did you have a specific idea of a certain game that you wanted to make?
SM: I would say Elebits was one of the goals that I've been striving for. But also, the thing I wanted to do from the beginning... how shall I say. I personally love Zelda, and I want to make an RPG that is much better than it.
Like an action-RPG style?
SM: Yes. There are lots of elements in Zelda -- action, story, and puzzle elements. Really well done.
My favorite thing about that type of game -- I don't like Zelda that much, but I like Legend of Oasis and Alundra and games like that -- is being able to discover secret areas. I really want to see another action-RPG that has that kind of element of discovery, or treasure hunting.
SM: Yeah I agree. I'd love to make that kind of game... it'll take some time. Maybe in the near future?
Excellent! What other action-RPG style games do you like, yourself?
SM: I completed The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass. For me, Oblivion was a little bit difficult, but it was great to have that freedom.
Have you ever played Thor? It's a Saturn action-RPG done by Ancient, with Yuzo Koshiro. It was released over here as Legend of Oasis.
SM: Oh yeah, I have that! But I haven't really played it. The music was by Yuzo Koshiro, and I bought it because of that. I'm a huge fan of his. Oh! And I thought of an RPG I like - Ys! That was the first action RPG I thought was really amazing. The Hudson one.
Yeah, I'm a big fan of the PC Engine. But the original was done by Falcom...
SM: Falcom did the PC-88 one, but Hudson did the PC Engine version. That version is really great. And I became a fan of Yuzo Koshiro because of that.
And oddly, the music in Legend of Oasis was not that exciting.
SM: Yeah, to me it was kind of boring, actually.
But the game design is very good. It's very puzzle-based. You can jump on everyone's head, and then that person walks around, and you can get on top of a building from there, and get higher and higher. You can throw things down on top of people and then pick it up somewhere else.
SM: You're some kind of game maniac, what's wrong with you? Not even Japanese people know most of these things. Embarrassing!
I like old things, what can I say? I'm a 2D fan. Recently, more 2D games are starting to come out again, because of Virtual Console and Xbox Live Arcade.
SM: Yeah, that's true, lately I've been buying all the old games as they come out on Virtual Console, especially the Konami ones! I just got Castlevania actually. There was an MSX collection on PlayStation 3 that's available on the PlayStation Network. I think that's good stuff.
It's funny, because MSX was funded by Microsoft.
SM: Yeah that's strange, eh? Konami was the best on the MSX, back in those days.