Tucked away in one of central Tokyo's sprawling, bustling regions, Q Entertainment's office building is small and incongruous - but impossible to miss, thanks to the striking logo on the side. "Q?" it asks. "Hopefully," responds the somewhat lost foreign journalist.
In his basement workspace, Tetsuya Mizuguchi is sprawled on a sofa and complaining of jetlag - having, ironically, just returned from a trip to London. Having started his career with SEGA in 1990, Mizuguchi is now ranked among Japanese game development's new generation of enfants terribles - designers like Keita Takahashi (Katamari Damacy) and Suda51 (Killer 7, No More Heroes) whose cult games break the rules, but not as much as their outspoken creators break the Japanese industry's unspoken rules.
Starting with Space Channel 5 and moving on with titles like Rez and Lumines, Mizuguchi has become the leading explorer in a genre he calls "music interactives". Recent months have been quiet for him, with Xbox Live reissues of Rez and Lumines being the headline titles, but Mizuguchi and his team have new concepts on the way - and the designer himself has found a new creative outlet, as the producer, lyricist and music video director for high concept Japanese music act Genki Rockets.
Jetlag or no, Mizuguchi was on form in Tokyo. Although he couldn't reveal details of the firm's upcoming games, he was happy to hold forth about his views on his earlier games - not to mention media, interactivity, technology, and what the future holds in store for the human race. Read on for a glimpse at the teeming imagination of one of the medium's most unusual creators.
Eurogamer: We know it probably won't be much, but what can you actually tell us about what you're working on at the moment?
Tetsuya Mizuguchi: I can't talk about the next project in any detail - yet. We're preparing a few different projects at the moment, focusing on the music interactives category. We're also keeping an eye on several platforms - not just game consoles. We're also watching mobile phones, for example.
Also, there's another team - this isn't my project, it's not my area - but my partner in Q Entertainment, and the CEO of the company, is Shuji Utsumi, and he's really eager to cultivate the PC online area. His team is making an online PC game.
Eurogamer: Is that a massively-multiplayer type game?
Tetsuya Mizuguchi: Yes, an MMORPG type. Personally, though, that's not my area. I'm more focused on the music interactive field. [Editor's note: This interview was conducted in Japan in April; Mizuguchi may be referring to Q's work on Angels Online.]
Eurogamer: A lot of what you've done recently have been remakes of previous games - Rez HD, Lumines Live and so on. Do you think it's more important to satisfy your existing fans by returning to those classics than it is to create new experiences?
Tetsuya Mizuguchi: I need both. I need new ideas and new style, new inspiration. People always want new stimulation, and that's very important. The other side is things like Rez HD. That was a six, seven-year-old game, and very few people got to play it, seven years ago. I had a big passion to return to Rez - almost the same game, but using HD and 5.1 surround sound technology. That was the reason to remake Rez on today's technology.
Eurogamer: Is Rez HD pretty much what you'd wanted to make from the start, but couldn't make on the existing hardware?
Tetsuya Mizuguchi: Right, right. Yeah, that's true. The wider screen format... I think that Rez HD is a very pure expression of the inspiration that I had six or seven years ago - actually, almost eight or nine years ago! I couldn't do that at the time.
Eurogamer: Is Space Channel 5 something you'd like to return to sometime? There's a lot of affection for it among gamers.
Tetsuya Mizuguchi: I don't feel like there's a really special reason to remake Space Channel 5 now. It's not like Rez. Rez is an experience game - the physical experience is very important, the visuals, the sounds and the vibration. I wanted to prove that if you had much more resolution, including the vibration, that it could be much more fun. Space Channel 5 is essentially a rhythm timing game. It's funny, like a comical TV show. I don't feel the need for much more resolution in that! That's the major difference.
Eurogamer: You describe interactive music as being your field - are you happy with what you've accomplished so far, in terms of bringing music and games together? What's the next step from here?
Tetsuya Mizuguchi: I'm not really saying interactive music - I always say "music interactives". Music interactives are, I think, a new category, a whole new experience. It's the idea of including an interface, a human interface - any kind of display, whether that's a mobile phone, or a PC, or anything. It's about the next style of entertainment. I think that this kind of music interactive product will point us towards the next big leap forward - the next style.
Eurogamer: Do you mean the next style of games, or music, or...
Tetsuya Mizuguchi: All media. So for example, if you look at television - as the technology goes digital, and goes interactive, the content of TV has to change soon. Right now, people just watch TV programmes, but in two or three years you'll be able to do something - using your TV controller to interact. Everything is moving towards the interactive area. Movies, right now, are a really passive kind of entertainment - but movies will change. A new style of movies is coming - but if won't exist alone, if you see what I'm saying.
Eurogamer: I think so - you're saying that movies as we know them will continue to exist, but there'll also be a new style of movie that allows the audience to interact.
Tetsuya Mizuguchi: Yes, exactly. We're on the starting line right now for interactive media. It's like everything is melting, everything is going to fuse together. What we need is to build the logic of that interaction. The first step was something like MTV, combining music and visuals, but the next step is to explore how we turn that into an interactive experience. How do we make the good feeling you get from media into a better feeling? What's the new sensory involvement, the new "wow!" feeling?
Eurogamer: Why do you think this is happening now - or beginning to happen now? Is it just because the technology is there to do it, or is it because people's expectations of media have changed?
Tetsuya Mizuguchi: Both. People always want new experiences - and technology always gives us those new experiences. For example, high-def technology, interactive technology, high quality sound technology, compression technology - everything working together to make new experiences. Technology even gives us new ways to touch people's emotions, to move them with new sensations.
Eurogamer: So you feel like technology is keeping pace with what people actually want from media? Some people certainly seem to feel like technology is ahead of our desires.
Tetsuya Mizuguchi: I'd like to think that human desire is always walking ahead of technology. I hope so, anyway. I think that every product - including games, entertainment, every piece of content or media - is always designed by human desire. Whether it's invisible or visible, with shape or with no shape... Artificial products, created by human beings, are always designed by our desire and our basic instincts. If we don't feel like, "I want to do this" or "I need this" - if there's no trigger like that, then people won't bother. They'll pass it by and say, I don't care about that - this isn't what I'm interested in. It's a really simple point, but all things, all products, are like that.
So let's talk about games, about interactivity. These things have no shape, and they're invisible products - not like, say, a statue. This is data, a high-pressure package of data - a lot of different art, and sound, and interaction, all packaged together. It includes an emotional side and a physical side. It's physical in terms of the good or bad feeling that you get from the timing, the controls, the constant call-and-response, call-and-response. But in the process of that call and response, you watch and you hear, and you get some stimulation - you think, and you feel, even feeling some emotional things. This is the chemistry, the physical and emotional side.
Interactive is a new area, but it's such a wide canvas - and in three dimensions, not 2D! It's very difficult to design things interactively, much more difficult than it is to create a movie or a TV show.
Eurogamer: Given how much of your work is focused on music, do you personally deal with a lot of musicians? It's obviously a much more involved process than simply licensing a soundtrack.
Tetsuya Mizuguchi: It depends on the project, and it depends on the artist. With Rez, or the first Lumines... With those games, the sound has a very important role. Sound has a power. Sound controls your emotions. When you hear sound, moving with the visuals, it influences you - it's one of the important tools in the game design process, the level design process. Sounds can give you direct feedback, telling you if you're succeeding or failing, making you feel good or bad about the experience. If I want to use sound effects, and the power of sounds, as part of the level design, in that case I'll always explain that directly to the artist. I'll say, "please make these sounds to fit that", or, "I need this kind of feeling from the sound". For a lot of requests, I do that.
In Lumines 2, we used music tracks behind the game. In that case, I simply said, "please make very good music" - taking a wider point of view, and asking them to make good music just as music.
With sound, with music - there are so many worlds. In the process of making music, there's a reason behind it... Some music you want to sing. Some music you want to dance. Some music helps your emotional involvement in movies. And now, some music exists for games, for the interactive process, and this is totally different. When I meet artists for the first time, I try to explain about that - saying, "you've made many types of music, for many different reasons, but interactive game music is another different type of world".
Eurogamer: Do you find that musicians and artists respond well to that?
Tetsuya Mizuguchi: Some artists, yeah, they respond very well - but some artists... Some artists just don't know at all about games. Recently, though, everybody is changing. I think the old people in the industry are moving out, new people are coming in - new people who grew up with videogames.
Eurogamer: Once you're working with the generation who grew up playing Mario, they understand.
Tetsuya Mizuguchi: Yeah. It's easy for them to understand, easy to communicate with them. They understand the visual experience.
Eurogamer: Out of all the games you've worked on in the past few years, most of them have been in the music interactives field - with the odd one out being Ninety-Nine Nights, which was a much more traditional kind of game. Is that something you want to do more of? Was it a fun experience, playing around in a more established genre?
Tetsuya Mizuguchi: My big interest is in making new experiences, a new category... Well, not a new category, but a new experience, definitely. I studied media aesthetics at university, and it's given me a big passion to create new sensual and emotional experiences.
With Ninety-Nine Nights, we tried to combine the movie and game experiences, taking the next step with that. At the time, I spent my time trying to create interactive, multi-process storylines. And yeah, that was fun - that was a great experience. I'm still keeping that kind of idea, actually. Now, I'm concentrating on music interactive products - but in the future, maybe I will try that kind of project again.
Eurogamer: Was Ninety-Nine Nights the first time you'd written a full storyline for a game - your first experience with scriptwriting?
Tetsuya Mizuguchi: Maybe, yes.... Well, in public! [Laughs]
Eurogamer: We won't ask about your secret movie scripts.
Tetsuya Mizuguchi: I love writing. My major was in writing, actually. Now I'm writing lyrics for Genki Rockets, the music group.
Eurogamer: I noticed the Genki Rockets poster on your wall - what's your involvement with that, apart from the lyrics?
Tetsuya Mizuguchi: I'm their producer. Myself and another guy, called Kenji Tamari - he's purely a music producer - are the creators of Genki Rockets. Our front act is a girl called Lumi, who sings and performs, with the concept, the music and lyrics being provided by Kenji and I.
Genki Rockets is the same as the case of Ninety-Nine Nights. Musically and visually, I wanted to express a new kind of style - everything moving with the musical sounds, a synaesthesia kind of experience, like Rez and Lumines. Of course, this isn't interactive - but this is broader and very accessible, so people can instantly "get" the kind of new musical, visual style and message. The message is very important to me, with Genki Rockets.
The idea is that it's the point of view of a human being from the future. She's a 17-year-old girl, living thirty years in the future - it's our future, very soon. She's the first human being to be born in outer space - this is the inspiration. She's always watching the blue planet, seeing no borders, but also watching the news and all the media from Earth - getting this feed of information, seeing the Dow Jones go up or down a point, wars breaking out, lack of water, pollution, perhaps global warming... But nothing changes, from her point of view.
My concept, all the time, is that technology always gives us a new point of view. Look at airplanes - just 100 years ago, some guy flew an airplane and saw the city he'd always lived in. Before that, we'd always had one point of view - very flat. Airplanes gave us a new point of view, where we could go up and say, "wow, I live here, in this kind of city". It was a new kind of inspiration, it drove a new kind of creativity, of expression. That was Futurism, which appeared in Italy 100 years ago - Futurismo. I think that going out into space and watching our entire planet, just 45 years ago... Before that, we'd never seen our own planet that way. That kind of point of view changes how we think, how our minds work.
Eurogamer: You could argue that the Internet did the same thing, by allowing us to communicate so easily around the globe.
Tetsuya Mizuguchi: Right - and it also introduced us to multitasking, the idea of doing many things at once on the same screen. Fifty years ago, if people had watched you multitasking, with different windows and lots of conversations at once, they wouldn't have understood what was happening. It would just have been too much. Whereas now, our brains are changing - we keep on changing as the times and the eras change. Our brains actually need that kind of process now, that multitasking! If you look thirty years, forty years, fifty years into the future, our descendants - our children, and the children of the future - will want much more. They'll demand more sophistication, not just from having many, many, many more flows of information, but how they think will be a very sophisticated, beautiful process.
The mind improves - it gets better and better. At least, I hope so! Anyway, the point of all this is that technology always changes our minds. It constantly gives us new inspiration - and every product should try to do that.
I think that we will change dramatically in this century. We'll have to stop using oil, for example, and new technology will come along. That will change us, like other technology has.
Eurogamer: Since Ninety-Nine Nights, Q Entertainment has focused on handhelds and Xbox Live - you've seemingly avoided doing a full-scale 360 or PS3 title. How come?
Tetsuya Mizuguchi: It's partially that, as a producer, I know that we can take very strong concepts and build handheld games with just ten people, fifteen people. It's easier to design and develop, although it's still very difficult to make!
On the other side, with something like Ninety-Nine Nights, I needed a hundred people - there was a strong concept and creative inspiration, and it's easy to design a product like that, but we had to find a really good studio to develop it. Now, there are a lot of really good studios in the world - but five years ago, that was very tough. I had the experience of making Rez and Space Channel 5 on PlayStation 2 and Dreamcast. Even on PlayStation 2, I was dreaming that there was this kind of audience, these kind of players, who would want to play my game - casually. But the game console is not casual, as media - especially the PS3 or Xbox 360.
When I think about music interactive type games, I think they appeal to an outer group of people. There's still a big hurdle there, with the audience for high-def consoles. PSP, though... PSP is getting casual, I think. Lots of people use them to watch recorded TV, to listen to music downloads. That's a big plus. Xbox 360's Live Arcade, too, gives people the ability to casually play and try things out. That was a big hurdle, too. When we did Rez on the PS2 and Dreamcast, lots of people just didn't understand the game, what it was about - and they might have wanted to try it out, but it was impossible. Now it's getting easy to try before you buy. I think that's the future.
Eurogamer: If you woke up tomorrow and said, "I'm bored of making games", what would you do instead?
Tetsuya Mizuguchi: Making music, maybe, or writing books - writing novels.
Eurogamer: What do you do to relax, when you get a chance?
Tetsuya Mizuguchi: Travelling. That's how I play - it's like playing life. Just taking a one day or two day trip, going to Okinawa or to a really small island, with nobody there. No plans. I just love thinking all the time - thinking and imagining things all the time. Imagining how I could make things, or some kind of visual or story. For that, I always need a new kind of inspiration, but when I play other people's games, I don't get that kind of inspiration. It's because I'm a professional game designer - I need a new, fresh, other kind of inspiration, all the time. I don't really feel any new inspiration from movies now, either. Before, yes, but not now - not any more.
Eurogamer: Is that because you've changed, or...?
Tetsuya Mizuguchi: It's because I've changed, yeah. I changed. I used to get huge inspiration from old movies, things like Blade Runner.... Actually, I think that movies have changed too. They're becoming more similar, following really typical storylines, with no new, fresh surprises. I always want a big surprise, a new inspiration.
So instead, backpacking! Always backpacking. It's a really fresh experience. If I just made a reservation for a really good hotel, it wouldn't be a surprise or new experience, not any more.
I'm always thinking about travelling, and where I'll go next.
Tetsuya Mizuguchi is COO and a founder of Q Entertainment.