We're told that Suda 51 - real name Goichi Suda, the eccentric head of the eccentric Grasshopper Manufacture studio - really likes interviews. We're told that spending a day sitting in a cubicle in the Business Meeting Area of the Tokyo Game Show, answering the same questions over and again, will be the highlight of his week. Uncharitably, we thought this made him an egomaniac. As it turns out, it's just because he's really nice.
Suda's an Anglophile in a Primal Scream t-shirt, a deep-voiced, laid-back kind of guy who doesn't look his 40 years. He's as unpretentious and ready to laugh as you wouldn't expect from his studied Tokyo cool, enigmatic nickname ("Go-ichi" sounds the same as "five-one" in Japanese) and bizarre, arty games.
Well, you might have thought that before No More Heroes. This year's free-roaming Wii action game was a crazed, hilarious mash-up of GTA's structure, Metal Gear Solid's flamboyance, Dynasty Warriors' epic melees, Pac-Man's fruit power-ups and an the menu of a posh Italian ice-cream parlour. Its nonchalant hero Travis Touchdown, obsessed with Mexican wrestling, anime and his t-shirt collection, doesn't seem a million miles away from Suda 51 himself. And for the first time in the history of Grasshopper's creations, he's back, in the just-announced No More Heroes: Desperate Stuggle.
"He's a cool guy!" enthuses Suda now. "When I worked on the scenario for No More Heroes, I liked the character I was creating. Actually, I wanted to write more about him in the first No More Heroes. I was thinking also that these kind of characters have a really interesting personality."
As he stood on a noisy stage on the TGS show floor the day before, lapping up the screamed adulation of a contingent of obsessed American journalists, Suda had said that the reason he'd chosen to make his first-ever sequel was that he wanted to revisit Travis. Fair enough - but we suspect it's also because, for once, he'd actually sold some games.
Grasshopper came to global attention with Killer 7, the striking, hyper-violent on-rails shooter for GameCube and later PS2, published by Capcom. Its controls baffled as many as its graphics seduced, and it didn't exactly set store shelves alight. No More Heroes, on the other hand, was a modest but certifiable hit (in the West at least), wowing critics with its self-referential wit and slick combat, and filling a hole for many a dedicated gamer with a dusty, unloved Wii.
Suda's not too big to admit that success begets sequels. "When we worked on the first No More Heroes, [Grasshopper and Japanese publisher Marvelous] were really confident that this one was going to be a huge success. When we were talking at that time we said okay, if it really becomes a success, we should definitely make a sequel. The sales in US and Europe were pretty good so we said okay, we have to make it."
It's also, he says, a reality of the modern videogame business. Even though he's a man whose brain is overburdened with unrealised game concepts ("I'm going to die before I realise all my ideas"), economic realities make launching a new IP with every project unrealistic.
"When you start a new IP, it's really hard now. But... [Marvelous] actually really believed in me, was pushing me, but letting me do what I really wanted to. And he's really pushing hard with unique original stuff." The adventurous publisher, he's saying, deserved a break, and Suda was happy to oblige. "This is the very first time that I really wanted to make a sequel, out of all the titles I've made so far."
We don't know much about No More Heroes: Desperate Struggle (or plain old No More Heroes 2, as Suda 51 is quite happy to call it) beyond the teaser trailer that was shown at the game's TGS announcement, featuring grainy post-Communist imagery, a woman with laser-spouting Scorpion limbs, and Travis wielding a slick new beam katana. Suda's not saying much at this stage, either.
The game's plot, he said at the unveiling, is predicated on revenge. Travis' revenge, presumably, but whether someone killed his cat, defaced his wrestling masks or suggested he might like to ride an ordinary motorcycle, we don't know. And it might not be so flippant. "I think it's time for No More Heroes to become serious," he says. "But it's going to have humour, don't worry. It won't be too serious."
Suda's up for some revenge too, for the parts of the first game that let him - and, as it happens, us - down. "I wasn't that satisfied with the open world," he admits now. "I wanted to make a lot more stuff, more detail. So this time in No More Heroes 2, I want to take my revenge. And actually, the theme of No More Heroes 2 is revenge, so..." Suda 51 chuckles deeply, something he does quite a lot.
So, a more serious mein, a revenge plot, a better open-world setting. We ask him what the other changes will be over the first time, and Suda refuses, politely, to be drawn. We press him a little harder - surely there must be something he can tell us? Something non-specific? What feeling will players take away from the game.
There's a long pause. Eventually, the writer, designer and chief executive speaks. "One of the feelings you may be experiencing is the true meaning of fighting," he says deliberately. Then he nodds sagely, looking round his cohorts for approval, satsifed with his answer on some deep level we can't quite fathom. Pleasant, but happy to maintain the enigma for now.
Something else we know is that No More Heroes will, unsurprisingly, be returning to Wii as an exclusive. Grasshopper Manufacture looked at an Xbox 360 version originally, but the motion controls leant themselves so well to its visceral sword combat that there was no contest.
"I was really considering making it on Xbox 360. I was actually thinking about it," Suda 51 says "But one of the really good points of this game was the way we used the remote control. We were really good in that respect. I was really confident that this control scheme would be a hit. If we took the Wii out of the equation, we'd have lost that, so the answer was that we had to make it on the Wii."
Controls are something Suda 51 and his team take especially seriously, to the extent of flying in the face of all conventional wisdom with Killer 7's two-button movement scheme. Although all Grasshopper's games are very different, the pivotal importance of the user interface, says Suda, is one of their common threads.
"I'm going into details here, but the way I mix the game and the cut-scenes - the way I mix everything up, and the user interface too, the way I make that, you can see a kind of similarity," he says. "Every time I direct a game, I like to control those parts very closely. I think the way you link everything together is really important to the tempo of the game."
In No More Heroes, the result was one of the few "hardcore" hits on the Wii that still made best use of its family-friendly controller - and probably, a healthy dose of extra sales from having a little corner of a huge market almost to itself. Does Suda think the Wii market will ever change? In Japan he does. "Maybe the trend's going to change, with Monster Hunter tri on Wii," he says. "Out of all the games here at Tokyo Game Show, it's the most popular one." And he's right - Capcom's stand is mobbed at all times, even on the show's "business" days. (We'll bring you a full preview of the monster-mashing sensation soon.)
No More Heroes' pull with the older otaku crowd was so strong that European fans were outraged when the game was released here in its "censored" Japanese version rather than the gory one released in the US. Grasshopper, Marvelous and its European subsidiary Rising Star won't be making the same mistake again, but they won't be producing a uniform version either.
"We won't be able to make the same game for all territories. For Europe, we're going to release two versions. One extreme version, and one with less violence," Suda says. "The last time I did a European press tour, everyone asked me this. With No More Heroes 2 we want to please the fans too. I want the European users to be able to experience the extreme version."
It's not, he says, that either version is necessarily the "true" one: they both developed simultaneously in his head. "When I first had the concept, I had both the bloody version and the milder version in mind," he says. "So when I worked on the US version, image-wise, it wasn't a problem for me to make, but when I made the Japanese version, I needed to rethink it a little bit. But I did both at the same time."
It wasn't just the level of violence that differed between home and overseas versions of No More Heroes. It was the reception the game met, making a considerably bigger splash in the US and Europe. How did Grasshopper reverse the trend at a time most Japanese game studios are facing declining popularity with the gaijin?
"Well, one reason is because I'm not 'Japanese'," he says jokingly. "For the staff at Grasshopper, I'm there as a kind of conductor, but we also have a lot of Japanese staff who have this kind of foreigner's mindset. I think maybe that's one of the reasons we managed to grasp what the foreign users were looking for."
He pauses and his eyes twinkle for a second, and he allows himself one moment, just one, of hubris. "Well, maybe it's just because I know what I'm doing," he says and roars with laughter. "But I don't want to say that, it looks bad."
Suda 51 is one of a breed of Japanese developers we have scant examples of in the West; guys who walk like rock stars, talk like rock stars, dress like rock stars, and enjoy global stardom. Guys like former Tecmo firebrand Tomonobu Itagaki, or SEGA's whisky-swilling Toshihiro Nagoshi, of Super Monkey Ball and Yakuza fame. "Yeah, Nagoshi-san and Itagaki-san are really cool," he says. "They're both really tall, too," he adds, as if that explained the phenomenon entirely.
It's partly down to Tokyo's openness to international culture, he reckons, that these flamboyant personalities emerge. But he turns the premise on its head; it's not Japan that makes Japanese game creators megastars. Not in his case, anyway. It's the rest of the world.
"I realised that the first time I went to E3, it was seven years ago," Suda 51 says. "Once I went to E3 and saw what the US was making, I really got a shock. Since I went to E3, I realised how exciting the videogames business is."
"For example, you had those booth babes that were just distributing some stuff - and I saw they were distributing condoms too. And then they were throwing pants! When I saw that I was like, wow! That's great. One day, I want to be able to throw pants to the public. That's one of my main goals." Not for the first time in the interview, Suda 51 cracks himself up.
Our American colleagues will be there ready to catch them, Suda. We'll make do with a handshake and a cheeky smile. And a dozen more games as gloriously silly as No More Heroes, thank you very much.