Interview: “Rez” creator Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s unusual life evolves humanity. “Creativity is NOT born from limitation.”

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Will VR be the new stage for creation?

— Let’s broaden the topic from “Rez” to VR. Once, Mr. Mizuguchi declared that “The creation of video games has entered the winter season” in a discussion with Mr. Kawata from AR3Brothers [*]. In that case, you spoke of how the method social games use like, “how to make uninterested people spend money,” was obvious during the arcade game era, but you and fellow colleagues created a place to develop games that weren’t like that. But lately, that’s become difficult and a new place is needed. I think that Mr. Mizuguchi is discovering that now in VR.

*Mr. Kawada of AR3Brothers
AR3Brothers is a three-person development unit under TORQUE Corporation. Using various media, the group continues to invent and present new works unrestricted by existing frameworks. Tom Kawada is one member of the unit, born in 1976 in the Kumamoto Prefecture. Responsible for planning, invention and writing. Occasionally appears on TV programs and is active in a wide range of areas.

Mizuguchi:
I have been waiting forever.

But for the past 130 years, image expression has been limited to a square frame. So even if people are suddenly invited into this three-dimensional space, an environment without a frame, most will hesitate at first about what to do.

— And during Mr. Mizuguchi’s story as a new recruit, there was that much confusion when 2D games became 3D with CG.

Mizuguchi:
But we still haven’t gotten anywhere. This is just the beginning of the VR revolution.

People who started with the social game method, I think they’ll have a hard time. It’s better to get used to VR as young as possible. I’m expecting a lot from the younger generation.

— Yet, I feel like most people can’t see “what is VR.” And within that, my impression is that “REZ” is enormously ahead. But as I’ve been listening to today’s conversation, Mr. Mizuguchi has been waiting for VR’s arrival since banging on the doors of SEGA. I thought, well of course, he’s a person in another world (laughs).

Mizuguchi:
That’s because I’ve experienced a lot. At last, the time has come where I can fully express to my heart’s content. Please let me bathe in this feeling for a bit(laughs).

— But, most creators start from constraints, so a world where “the square frame” has disappeared, it would be terribly perplexing to think about where to begin.

Mizuguchi:
It’s better to ignore the pre-existing genres and vocabulary. Don’t persist. It’s common to say, “I can’t express well in VR with my usual methods,” but that’s obvious. Because, until now, we’ve forced and converted everything into two dimensions.

And, I feel when I’m creating VR, creativity so far was an evolution by “fragmentation of the senses.”

— The fragmentation of the sense?

Mizuguchi:
When we express something, visual is visual, hearing is hearing, words are expressed as words. But in truth, when people first imagine something, it’s not clear from the beginning, is it?

— Oh … … I think I understand. In fact, as a writer, when I am writing a sentence, I’m recalling the scene and voices of the interview in my mind. Occasionally, the smell and touch, and even the emotions then.

Mizuguchi:
Right? After all, it’s a problem that human beings have struggled with for a long time. Real ideas and imagination are inherently integrated and impressions shouldn’t have boundaries. However, when we express it, it has to be done partially, such as “it looks like this in video” or “it’s described like this in words.”

— I completely understand. In the first place, with paper, it’s only letters or images. Even with AV equipment, only moving images and music can be fit in a square screen at best. To put it another way, painters, singers, writers – it must have been a professions of overworking their specific sensory organ from somehow trying to express an integrated experience of their imagination in a limited medium.

Mizuguchi:
In the long run, I think what we can see after the advancement of VR, will be a future where such divisions are gone. People will be able to communicate imaginations that are deep inside their minds in a more natural way, as well as experiencing and conveying [things such] as synesthesia.

— In the world of writing, there is a sense of values like, “one who has the skill to express everything with one sentence is exceptional.” But what really matters is how captivating the expressions that the person holds in the depths of their heart. And it seems that this will be questioned severely in the future as the “resolution” of multimedia expression improves and convenience increases.

Mizuguchi:
But it will take a while until we’re released from the confines of 20th century media. But I guess everyone’s senses will gradually open up.

— Listening to your story now, I remembered Mr. Mizuguchi’s talk at TED × Tokyo that “the future of video games would become ‘a drama of sensation.’” At that time, I thought, “What is this guy saying ?” (laughs), but based on the story of “Area X” and the future of VR, it’s surprisingly clear to understand .

*Mr. Mizuguchi’s speech at TED × Tokyo. After playing “Child Of Eden” using Kinect in front of a “square display,” he describes how the future of video games will become “dramas of sensations.”

Mizuguchi:
….. that was in 2011. That was still the eve of VR.

Developing “Rez Infinite” with a small team

— I’m going to pull back our talk to reality, but how many people worked on the project “Rez Infinite”?

Mizuguchi:
Umm… … four programmers, three artists and one to two people each in game design, production management, producer and sound. So in total, about 12 to 13 people, I guess. It was a joint team with Osamu Kodera, who I’ve worked with for nearly 20 years, his studio Monstars and my studio Resonair.

By the way, the whole development period was about 15 months, the production of “Area X” itself… about half a year. Before development started, I was in pre-production with art director Takashi Ishihara for about a year and a half.

— For a modern game development, it’s an astonishing setup. Usually, it’s a couple hundred people taking years to develop.

Mizuguchi:
I think that’s becoming an image of the past.

Recently, a lot of people have become independent. Then you naturally start thinking about efficiency and wasting less time. Better game engines have come into use, too. So, in fact, it’s better for everyone to become more and more independent and create new trends, like the United States.

— Is that the reason Mr. Mizuguchi broke out of SEGA?

Mizuguchi:
No, in my case, I thought, “if I work at SEGA any longer, I would only be an annoyance to the company” (laughs). After all, in order to freely keep doing what you like, you have to take on the risks yourself.

After that, I basically did trial and error to find a system of creating that suits me.

— Is the current development team an in-house production, or rather, all employees?

Mizuguchi:
No, not employees, but an alliance system.
Enhance Games [*] can be described as something like a publisher or distribution company regarding Hollywood films …… It creates new projects and IP, collects funds, designs the production and carries out marketing and publishing. It creates contracts with studios like Monstars and Resonair and individual creatives to form an alliance and then begin production. It’s the same structure as the American film industry.

※Enhance Games
A development company Mr. Mizuguchi established and serves as CEO of. A US corporation registered in California.

―Nonetheless, I don’t think there is much staff who can understand Mr. Mizuguchi’s vision as we’ve talked about so far.

Mizuguchi:
Well, there were a lot of people who I’ve worked with on past projects … but from this point, there is a lot of potential. The basic idea is to partner with creatives and studios that can be responsible for their own work and management. So, no manager, no HR.

— That kind of practice works?

Mizuguchi:
If you collect creatives and try to make the company bigger, quality tends to decline, right? That’s one of my conclusions after continuous trial and error. Actually, in Hollywood, the director, the actor and most specialized staff, each person is independent, and they unite to form a studio. There are no employee creatives.

— So then, like the Silicon Valley project development, it’s assembling and dissembling a team with each project?

Mizuguchi:
It’s sharing as much of the future product plan as possible and negotiating the degree of commitment from there. For example, if I’m told, “I want to spend 20 percent towards another job,” I’ll say, “do what you think is necessary. But make sure 80 percent of that commitment is solid.”

Human beings’ commitment power can be incredible towards what they want to do, but it stops when there’s an interference. Ultimately, if you let them work like that, talent grows exponentially. Like how there are people who spare their sleep so instead of 100 percent, they can spend 150 percent of their time working?

However, once you become an employee, this strange power comes into play like, “the company is paying salaries, so we have to give this person some kind of work,” and things go wrong.

— Well, the reason I asked this kind of question is that I could only imagine “Area X” being born out of a tight studio production system.

Mizuguchi:
That’s … … rather, it may be more about the communication and understanding within the team. For example, it was the same with “Child of Eden,” but to the art director, Ishihara, I didn’t first hand him a detailed scenario, but a poetry-like sentence.

—Oh! I heard that in the past as a Testsuya Mizuguchi legend! “I was given a poem as a proposal …” (laughs).

Mizuguchi:
To start up your partner’s imagination, there are times when it’s better to add a lot of line space than to deliver detailed sentences. In order to fill up the space, they’ll actively start thinking about the work themselves. If you reach the end without this, most staff members will just be waiting for work with their mouths open.

— Is that in fact something you experienced with SEGA as it grew from town factory scale to a large enterprise?

Mizuguchi:
It was simply … … I wanted to work in a comfortable atmosphere. If an organization could become more common, where creatives are stronger, unite on a project basis, divide profit by lifetimes, I think the industry will turn into one where the projects and creatives are at the core.

Don’t you think a company where a manager who can’t understand creativity but evaluates creatives is terrible? It’s an awful amount of stress for both.

— Hahaha, exactly (laughs). But since hearing Mr. Shimizu’s story about Mr. Mizuguchi bothering everyone by saying absurd things at SEGA, the environment surrounding Mr. Mizuguchi’s production has really changed.

Mizuguchi:
It’s because technology has evolved significantly. There are two main reasons why I support this situation. I think one is that I can now freely use game engines like Unity and Unreal Engine. The other, distribution is now digital and publishing itself is not such a big risk anymore.

— By the way, is Sony the one who proposed developing “Rez” for VR?

Mizuguchi:
No, first I borrowed money myself and started.

I thought about Kickstarter [*] and started up a corporation in the United States, but at the time, other projects went up in flames and it was a big mess. So I tearfully gave up crowd funding. Then I first set up Enhance and asked SEGA to license out “Rez.”

*Kickstarter
One of the biggest crowd funding platforms in the world. Established in the United States in 2009. Provides means to raise funds through crowd funding for creative projects and creatives with unique ideas.

— That’s amazing persistence.

Mizuguchi:
I got the OK from SEGA, talked with SIE in the US, prototyped [*], and around when development for “Area X” started, raised the first funds with Enhance…. It was that kind of progress.

※Prototyping
Act of producing a prototype, and its process.

— Indeed. In fact, looking at the special thanks in the credits, it includes former GungHo chairman, Mr. Taizo Son[*1], or the author of “The Principles of IT Business,” Kazuhiro Obara [*2] — many well-known players in the Japanese IT industry.

*1 Taizo Son
Serial entrepreneur, businessman, investor from Saga Prefecture, born in 1972. Former GungHo Online Entertainment chairman. Brother, Masayoshi Son is the founder of the Softbank Group. Known for establishing MOVIDA JAPAN Co., Ltd. to support startups in 2009. In 2013, established Mistletoe Co., Ltd. in order to engage in a wider range of startup support. Supports numerous entrepreneurs and startup training activities including ABBALab Co., Ltd. (which engages in IoT startup training) and GEUDA general corporation foundation. Also noted for being one the organizers behind “Slush Asia.”

*2 Kazuhiro Ohara
A Japanese writer / IT critic born in 1970. Began his career at McKinsey & Company and supported NTT DoCoMo’s i-mode business launch. Engaged with business planning, investments and startup ventures with companies including Recruit Holdings, Key Laboratory (now: KLab), CDI, CYBIRD, Opt and Google. Volunteers for the auditions of Japan’s “TED” conference and familiar with IT affairs in the US Silicon Valley.

Mizuguchi:
Mr. Ohara called out to a bunch of people, which I was really happy about.

During his Google years, Mr. Ohara was on the management team of TEDxTokyo, and we’ve been friends since I was invited to the stage in 2011. Mr. Taizo Son always liked “Space Channel” and supported me from the beginning. The idea for ​​”Area X” and “Synesthesia Suit,” he encouraged me and said, “you should do it,” without hesitation. Mr. Kouki Yabu, president of Mobcast and Mr. Youko Watanabe of B Dash Ventures, also invested. Everyone was the first group of supporters. They provided all kinds of advice and I’m really thankful.

Mr. Mizuguchi also developed a way to enjoy “tactile” with VR. The ”Synesthesia suit” (not for sale), consists of an inner layer lined with transducers and an outer layer installed with LED lights. Players who wear this will feel vibrations according to gameplay throughout the body. Viewers can enjoy the colorful lights which responds to the vibration. Mr. Mizuguchi can often be seen wearing this at events.

— But, I’m a bit disappointed and feel hopelessness that most of the names listed are from the IT Industry and not the game industry …. On the other hand, if you look at these credits, it’s clear how before video games and such, Mr. Mizuguchi is a descendant of the computer culture.

Mizuguchi:
Certainly, when you put it that way.

But there are no boundaries between video games, IT and VR. There’s also a feeling that IT is closer to VR. Rather, isn’t this the more natural flow?

Rez’s future

— Well, the interview is about to end, but how is Mr. Mizuguchi planning to develop “Rez” in the future?

Mizuguchi:
This time, “Area X” of “Rez Infinite” is in the position of both experiment and preview. So, in a few years, I will definitely start the main chapter of this prologue.

Everybody:
……what?

— So in a few years… Can you make it downloadable as soon as it’s ready…?

Mizuguchi:
……(laughs). I guess there’s that kind of thinking, too.

Although, I’d rather take my time to prepare. Well, it took this long and it didn’t disappear, so I’m sure it will be okay.

—Hmm. By the way, I always play “Area X” of “Rez Infinite” before I go to sleep. I kind of use it as my bedtime music. So, I would like the next stage soon ….

Mizuguchi:
Wow, that makes me really happy…. Because I was hoping people could play it in that way — before sleeping, on weekends, or when there’s some down time.

—In that case, the DL sales model is definitely a possibility. Lately, leisure is mainly spent on social games designed to provide entertainment one after another during available time, or with large scale entertainment like festivals or movies a few times a year. But VR and overseas dramas are emerging as content that continually gives a dense experience. No, in short, I just want a new game (haha).

Mizuguchi:
I see … I will talk it over with the staff.

But I’m really happy you play it so much. By the way, as you play, what kind of “wants” emerge?

— I want to play a new game.

Mizuguchi:
Hahaha….

— I’m sorry, I’m like a junkie (laughs). Well, after I’ve played for some extent, lately I’ve begun to fly around quickly while shooting. Of course, it’s in “traveling” mode. I think, to bring out the maximum pleasant feeling from playing for 15 minutes, that’s the best way to do it. It might be kind of like going outside for a bit to ride a motorcycle.

Mizuguchi:
What about “wants” in the music?

Desires to customize the sound yourself? or … being able to change the instruments and fine tuning the BGM to your liking?

— Curiously, it’s a game that doesn’t create much desire for customization, so I don’t really know. Although, there used to be this space war game called “Wing Commander III”[*] where the song changed each time it targeted or shot a missile. Becoming absorbed into the game through music was memorable. Personally, compared to that game, the change in the music of “Rez Infinite” is modest. It might be nice if there’s more “synesthesia” depending on the feeling. Like, when it’s time to meditate, the song increases in tempo, or when you increase spread, the sound and light sparks more intensely.

*Wing Commander III …… A 3D shooting game released in 1996 that takes place during an interstellar war between humans and lion-like aliens. The high quality live-action scenes with actors such as Mark Hamill attracted many gamers.
(Image from software catalog

Mizuguchi:
I see……. How about wanting to share the space of VR with other people? For example, not fighting, but a kind of once-in-a-lifetime social element where everyone becomes happy in VR?

— I think it’s already striking that in a time where experiences are designed based on the enjoyment of social characteristics, “Rez Infinite” is a completely personal experience and terribly fun at the same time. But it’s true that as we become more used to VR, we’ll start seeking social pleasure, too.

Mizuguchi:
When a social feeling enters loneliness or solitude, I think it’s when emotions will be stimulated again.

For example, at “Burning Man” [*], it’s terribly lonely in the the vast Nevada desert. But when you meet someone in the middle of the desert, you sharply feel these human like emotions. I think that feeling is great.

*Burning man
An epic event held at Black Rock Desert located about 150 km north-northeast of Reno, Nevada. Participants spend a week with all infrastructure broken down, and must procure all necessities, including food. The use of money and business activities within the venue are clearly prohibited. The community must be established through non-collateral methods, such as “gift economy” and “a kind heart.”

— Oh, you’ve been to Burning Man.

Mizuguchi:
I have since around 1998.

Now it’s a place where 70,000 people gather, but at the time I started participating, it was still around 3,000 to 5,000 people. It was really peaceful then. When you’re leaning against others in such harsh nature, the presence of humans earnestly helping each other at the mercy of nature, we start to look really charming. And yet there are thousands of people— it was a really unique atmosphere.

— True, if such a space was created in VR, it would be really interesting.

VR is just a “stepping stone” to the next generation!

— Now … … after talking about almost everything, and then being questioned instead(laughs), can I ask one more question? Within the editorial department, people who have played the game frequently discuss, ”Why is there no motion sickness in “Rez”?” Does Mr. Mizuguchi know that secret?

Mizuguchi:
The whole staff fine tuned it thoroughly while getting sick ourselves (laughs). From the middle to the final, the entire staff endlessly adjusted. I think my body now knows what has to be done to feel motion sickness.

— Really? Actually, in an interview I read before ours, as a reason why it’s difficult to become sick while playing “Rez Infinite,” Mr. Mizuguchi said “Isn’t it because everyone really has a desire to fly in the sky?” I found that funny.

Mizuguchi:
In the process of thinking about “Area X,” I thought, “what is it that I really want to experience in VR?” Frankly, I wanted to move through space like flying or swimming. I really wanted to fly in the sky freely .

But the reactions from the staff was … … “I think you’ll get sick” (laughs).

— I see. (laughs).

Mizuguchi:
But, I thought if I can’t realize such pleasant experiences, I can’t commit to the future of VR media. So, I tried it, and surprisingly, didn’t get sick. After all, I think that “Rez Infinite” is not an imitation of reality.

— With VR, the more realistic, the easier it is to get sick.

Mizuguchi:
When the actual movement in this dimension is different from our imagined experience, it’s easier to become “sick.” When the player has proper control, it’s said the brain is less likely to cause confusion. In that sense, in the world of “Rez Infinite,” it’s hard to feel dimensions and be sick.

—Also, if I add one thing, one of the engineers from the Dwango VR department who came to greet Mr. Mizuguchi earlier seems to put on Oculus Rift every night before sleeping to get over VR motion sickness. But now, instead of becoming sick in VR, he gets sick in real life (laughs).

Mizuguchi:
…… Oh, really? (laughs).

— I’ve also played “Rez Infinite” for several hours straight, and after removing the headgear, gazing at my surroundings, no response after staring at one point made me feel sick. But “motion sickness” seems natural, too. In other words, once it became possible to perform ideal movements in VR, rather than the available movements in reality, and it accumulating as the mind’s experience, we “invert.” And in turn, we learn “sickness” in reality … I think…

Mizuguchi:
Actually, don’t you think most of human experience is an illusion?

The experience at Disneyland is an illusion, even cities are externalized images of various people. The fact that people who lost their arm suffer from phantom limbs is evidence, too. That the brain recognizes the experience of VR as a real experience is normal.

However, I feel like this is only the talk about a transition period … In truth, I’m always hoping the generation of VR will end soon.

―What! Really? (laughs).

Mizuguchi:
I think VR is the process for the next step.

Moving forward, a lot of synesthesia integration experiences will be created in VR, but that experience will probably begin to appear in the real world, along with AR and MR technologies. And they will also connect to technologies like IoT and AI.

As an internet connection becomes common, everything will unite. By then, as the world becomes scanned with detectors from every angle, our current “image” media will be considered only as a “slice of our vision.”

— What kind of entertainment do you want to make then?

Mizuguchi:
It’s only an example, but maybe a musical of a new era. Bigger ideas will be added to human performed musicals. Real acting integrating with various techniques that have separately evolved – that kind of new storytelling seems interesting. Although the genre and category would be difficult(laughs).

— It’s already difficult to know which shelf “Rez” should be placed in the game shop (laughs). I’m not even sure where on earth this kind of musical should exist.

Mizuguchi:
Occasionally, I honestly don’t care about categories, genres or titles (laughs). Of course, I myself certainly exist as a video game designer, but already, it’s impossible to only be that.

— The loneliness might continue (laughs).

Mizuguchi:
No, no, compared to the past, I have company.

There’s been an increase of people who understand synesthesia and young talented staff. Technology has also evolved. At some point, VR technology will mature. AR and MR will arrive. The quality of game engines have improved. As long as there are ideas and images, there will no longer be creativity that can’t be expressed. From here on, I think the speed of evolution will be faster than everyone expects. Creativity wise, we are getting closer and closer to an ideal environment.

That’s why I want to have fun from here on out. Because you need a lot of energy to create a new experience. Just like a magma reservoir, you save and save, then let it blow. Without that, there will be no big jump.

— Thank you very much for your time. But I’m a fan who thinks “don’t hold it all in and quickly start the continuation of ‘Area X’” … … (laughs).

Before the beginning of the interview, we had an opportunity to see Mr. Mizuguchi playing “Rez Infinite.”

At that time, Mr. Mizuguchi was saying, “My play isn’t particularly good,” but added shyly, “I think I play the most comfortably.” The picture above is Mr. Mizuguchi at play, but his appearance of relishing the movements through his own game was very telling. When the expressive power of video games improves – different from the “sense of accomplishment” generated by video game design and the “fun” of a film-like story – “emotion,” which cannot be described in words, is made possible.

While listening to today’s interview, I was continuously reminded of Mr. Mizuguchi playing “Rez” earlier.

In the beginning, we assumed we would be interviewing in an intellectual and calm atmosphere based on Mr. Mizuguchi’s public image.

However, even with Mr. Ryo Shimizu animating the atmosphere, the room was caught up in Mr. Mizuguchi’s overflowing energy, anyway. For seven hours, it was a place of uncontrollable laughter, overflowing with passion. After watching him cancel his dentist appointment on the spot and say, ”I’ll keep you company as long as you need, “ we realized “Tetsuya Mizuguchi is a character we didn’t properly understand.”

As the result of his absurd life, like a mass of such energy, Mr. Mizuguchi arrived at “Rez Infinite.” Still, this is only “the first step” he has finally been able to take in his 30 years as a creative. What will Mr. Mizuguchi imagine next, now that he has been able to shake off the “constraints” that have long restrained him? I’m looking forward to the day when I can experience that with my whole body.

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Talk: Latest Zelda’s making process & “Ocarina of Time” proposal disclosed[Nintendo Eiji Aonuma x SQEX Jin Fujisawa]

Interviewer
The chief editor of Denfami-nico-gamer and niconico news. Formerly as a deputy editor of the game information site “4Gamer.net”, writing articles about the game industry.
Twitter:@TAITAI999
Interviewer, Writer
Writer, editor.
Twitter:@jamais_vu
 

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