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GameCity: Inside Takahashi's Nobi Nobi Dreams

At his recent GameCity keynote attended by Gamasutra, Namco Bandai's Keita Takahashi explained, ever-bluntly, that he is "sick of" the Katamari Damacy franchise, before going on to discuss his PlayStation 3 game Nobi Nobi Boy in a spectacula
Katamari Damacy creator Keita Takahashi was blunt in his vision keynote address to this year’s GameCity festival, recently held in Nottingham, England. Offering a visual FAQ from the very start, Takahashi displayed a note card on the screen which laid out precisely what the session would not be about. “About Katamari Damacy: I’m sick of it,” it read. “What is the future of video games: I haven’t got a clue. What do video games bring us: It depends on what you’re after. What are video games: Who knows.” Instead, to a night-time soundscape of crickets and trees rustled by the wind piped in by Takahashi himself, he delivered a speech part meandering treatise on his creative process and thoughts on the world around him, and part deadpan comedic quasi-performance art. Confessing to being “vague and not well focused,” he explained that because he was still working on the game, he wasn’t “thinking hard enough. My brain’s become mush… This state is ok when you’re creating, maybe not so good for a presentation.” But, undaunted, Takahashi soldiered on, moving not to the process of creating or details of his forthcoming PlayStation 3 title Nobi Nobi Boy, but to a snapshot of his green flip-flop sandals that broke shortly before his flight to the UK, which, he explained impassively, was a bad omen, making him fear his plane might crash. After then briefly introducing Nobi Nobi Boy by sketching the worm-like character on screen and using his Powerbook’s Japanese-English dictionary to show that “nobi nobi” could be translated both as “stretchy stretchy” and “carefree,” Takahashi kicked off a series of seemingly non-sequitur diversions. He used Google Earth to show the audience his childhood home, his current apartment building, and the Namco Bandai headquarters, then double-clicked a Nottingham bookmark and let the application slowly zoom out and pan to the UK. Here, he showed photos of a local park site, where he revealed that he had been commissioned to design a new playground – oft cited as what he might like to do following his game design career. He gave an extended photo essay about collecting stickers from food products with other members of his development team over the course of months to send away for a cup and bowl featuring classic children’s character Miffy, a multiplayer quest he called “just like Final Fantasy.” Apart from playgrounds and games, Takahashi also revealed another personal project, one that started at his home. Plagued by noisy downstairs neighbors, he explained to the audience that he had begun to grow a garden off his back porch, hoping in time the plants would grow downward far enough to hang over their own porch, to remind them that they lived below someone. Asked later why he didn’t simply ask them to keep down the noise, he confessed that they weren’t Japanese, and that they scared him. Takahashi also said that he spends much of his time when biking to and from work thinking about the re-design of everyday objects, especially the many trucks that fill Japan’s streets. In a series of redrawn photos, he transformed an every-day truck to one that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Katamari’s world – a flat grey cab with furry pink bumper, neon green tires, eyeball headlights, license plate mouth, and two hands holding up the rear view mirrors. “I don’t want to drive this truck myself,” he said,”What I want to say is that not all trucks have to look the same way.” He stressed that his life was actually quite ordinary, and implored the audience not to take for granted the luxury of that ordinary living, saying that in a world with more fighting and pollution, no one could enjoy simple things like collecting food stickers for a Miffy bowl or playing games. Striking a more serious tone, Takahashi predicted a “darker side of reality” for the planet, and asked that people think about global issues, recycle garbage, and be kind to their neighbors. Finally, Takahashi revealed an extended demo session of the game, with its titular boy roaming amongst chickens, pigs, cats, and koalas. Able to stretch his body apart and control each end with the Sixaxis’ twin sticks, currently Takahashi showed little other than how the boy moves, how he can swallow animals and spit them out the other side, and how the game will eventually support multiple boys at once, with two other audience members taking up the controls. Just how fine a point Takahashi was truly driving at with his various session segments was deliberately unclear – whether sticker collecting or glacially slow plant-growing could be taken as signifiers, or truck re-dressing an allegory for his common complaint of lack of industry creativity. Either way, though, his GameCity session further cemented his reputation as one of the industry’s top provocateurs, leaving his audience as generally baffled as they were entertained. [EDITOR'S NOTE: Part of Takahashi's presentation demonstrating Nobi Nobi Boy was filmed by an audience member, and is available for viewing via Gamersyde.com, providing more insight into his relatively abstract concepts.]

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