Goichi Suda (often referred to as "Suda51") has produced a number of quirky titles during his career - killer7, No More Heroes, Shadows of the Damned, Lollipop Chainsaw, etc. - that have resonated with the hardcore gaming crowd but never found enough mass appeal to become commercial hits. In today's challenging console market, producing games that don't sell millions of units can be a professional death sentence, but Suda is more confident now than ever before since his studio Grasshopper Manufacture was acquired by GungHo Online Entertainment in January.
Back at GDC, Suda and GungHo president Kazuki Morishita spoke to GamesIndustry International about the acquisition, how to approach the marketplace, and if there's any concern about creating violent video games for an American audience.
Suda and GungHo are targeting a release next year for his new action RPG (not to be confused with Killer is Dead coming out this year), which will feature art from Yusuke Kozaki, who worked on the No More Heroes artwork as well. While some had speculated that Suda was pursuing another entry in the No More Heroes franchise, he stressed, "It's completely different from the No More Heroes series. This is a completely new IP." At this early stage, Suda could only show off some concept art, and platforms have not yet been announced. Suda and the GungHo team in the room erupted into laughter when we brought up the mistranslation that Suda's "horny" for PS4. "It's definitely not planned, but it's part of our internal discussion, releasing it on the PS4," he noted.
"We weren't able to translate our creative directly into sales because that was the part where there was always a wall between creative and sales"
While Suda wouldn't discuss his aspirations for the game, his optimism for selling more copies definitely came through. In the past, he said, his studio may have been hindered by sales teams at publishers.
"Grasshopper does have a very strong base; it's just that because we were so indie, publishers were always [treating us] differently. Each publisher operates a different way, has different strategic ideas, so in terms of sales, what they did, was they kept creating what they thought was good. But in terms of publishing, it was a different company's strategic choice. So we believe that back then, when we were completely indie without a group company to be together with, we weren't able to translate our creative directly into sales because that was the part where there was always a wall between creative and sales transition wise," he lamented.
"So now that we're one big group together [at GungHo] and we'll be publishing our own titles as Grasshopper, we believe that the creative side and the sales side will have a better connection. So we definitely believe that it will transfer to good sales because we will be able to choose our own strategy."
Suda added that, ultimately, he and his team simply focus on creating high quality games. Worrying about sales figures in the middle of a game's development won't do the game or his team any good. "We don't really focus on sales figures. We always focus more on gameplay, and just the creative aspect of whether it's a good game or not. It's not that big of an issue, in terms of sales numbers. As long as we think it's a good game then we'll be satisfied internally," he said.
Suda revealed to us that he's also working on a new mobile title with GungHo, which is now the most valuable company in mobile gaming with a $9 billion market cap thanks to the blockbuster Puzzle & Dragons. Having a diversity of titles across a variety of platforms can only be a good thing.
"I'm not really going for a realistic violence. I'm definitely trying to go with the hyper-reality where it's so far fetched that it comes to a point where it's kind of funny"
"GungHo has always been a multi-platform company, so just because one market seems to be booming right now doesn't mean that we're focused just on that," noted Morishita. "It's definitely a creative idea based on choice, whether it's smartphone or console; it's just always based on the project. We don't want to focus on just one platform."
Suda's new IP, judging by his previous works, will likely have a fair amount of violence in it. The industry, however, especially in America, is starting to push back with the likes of Warren Spector and David Cage questioning why so many titles are putting violence front and center. Moreover, there are still some in the mainstream media and in politics who are quick to use games as a scapegoat for real-life acts of violence. Is this a problem for Suda?
Not especially. His violent material is so over-the-top that it's almost a parody, he believes. "When I create games, in terms of violence, I'm not really going for a realistic violence. I'm definitely trying to go with the hyper-reality where it's so far fetched that it comes to a point where it's kind of funny. That's sort of my creative mindset about violence," he said.
"I don't really believe that playing violent games transitions into people becoming violent. Culturally, for example, in the US, zombie movies are very violent but a lot of people laugh. I love that ironic idea - the idea of actually being able to laugh about violence is something that I enjoy and really think is funny as well. That's what I try to put into my games," he explained.
Morishita added that, at least for Suda and GungHo, violence isn't something used to sell copies - it's simply part of the creative vision in some titles. "It's part of the creative aspect where there's a reason why something has to be violent. There's always a reason. It's not unnecessary, and you're not trying to sell the violence. It's just that violence is coincidentally part of the creative idea," he said.
Little is known about the new console IP Suda is working on with GungHo, but we can safely assume one thing: it will be playable online, unlike many of his previous games. "For Grasshopper, the biggest hurdle will be working on the online features area... and definitely that's something that we'll be working hard on to make sure that all Grasshopper titles have online features."