Born in Yokohama. Majored in Literature at Meiji University and joined Tecmo Co., Ltd. after graduation. He worked as a programmer, an animation designer, and an art section director, gaining wide range of experience and accumulated experience, and then took a role as the director for “Dead or Alive” and “Ninja Gaiden” franchises at Tecmo. He became an independent and established Soleil Ltd. in 2008 and participated in the development of “Devil’s Third.” The latest title he directed is “Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time” which was just released worldwide August 21, 2020 (US Time).
How did you enter the game industry? Did you aim for the game industry from the beginning?
I’m kind of sorry, but my intention was not that solid enough. I managed to start my job hunting in the wide range of “manufacturing” fields and the contents industry was just one of them. During that time, I received a direct mail (not digital one) and attended at a seminar held by Tecmo, which was a cue for me. It was a sloppy state, or rather, it was an undifferentiated state. I was just wondering if a person who likes drawing manga, rock music, martial arts, literature, etc. might be useful for such industries. I joined Tecmo, while partly misunderstanding that I could draw pictures.
I see it was not the game industry in particular.
When it comes to games, I was in contact with them at a slightly odd angle. I felt that the large arcade housing was strangely attractive as a hands-on machine, and on the other hand, I was fishing for free game software that does not cost money. I felt so fulfilling that I took a small change, jogged to the nearest downtown for an hour, spent some time with a cockpit machine at the game center, and then went home, running for another hour. It was my mysterious junior high school era.
In terms of games, beginning with a stepwise processing pocket computer that I asked my parents to buy me, and I was playing with PCs relatively earlier for game purposes, but in a super easy way.
What was your first work after joining the company?
At that time, 2D figher was popular, so I was offering various ideas for such a project for about a year immediately after joining the company. It was a lot of fun because I had some foolish ideas coming out such as cat fighter because of the irresponsibility of newcomers.
The fighter game project was gone after all and the team went on to a falling block puzzle project, which resulted in an arcade game called "Deron Dero Dero (Tecmo Stackers)". The game is created from various ideas and devices. So I'm proud I was the one who came up with the idea for blocks to stretch like slime (laughs).
* ”Deron” is the imitative sound of such an action
Did you move to Team Ninja right after that?
When the development of " Deron Dero Dero" was completed, the development of "DEAD OR ALIVE" (3D fighting game) by Chief Itagaki (!) was still in its infancy. But the game show was imminent for its exhibit. However, there weren't many 3D animators available yet those days, so they needed many animators in order to catch up with the deadline for the show. Because it was a new field of work, the management said anyone could start that position. Then, many employees were suddenly thrown into that project and I was there. My experience of martial arts and my skill of drawing flip-book animation in textbooks could be utilized.
Since then, I got the opportunity to do various things under Mr. Itagaki, and while I was given the lead of game design work and creatives in many fields, I was assigned the position of director.
To tell the truth, I originally thought that once I experience a company for three years, I would be a manga artist. I also professed so to my peers. Well, it was not uncommon to say that people would leave the company for such a reason those days. At the end of the first episode of "DEAD OR ALIVE", Mr. Itagaki who heard it came to me and said, "Oh Matsui, I heard a bad rumor." Mr. Itagaki's enthusiasm for talking about his dreams was incredible. If I remember correctly, we identified ourselves “Team NINJA” after the success of “DEAD OR ALILVE” solidified our foothold.
In NINJA GAIDEN, where we decided to create a new product for XBOX based on the IP from the Nintendo Famicon era, I designed the entire game and worked as the director and the project manager. But this was a painful project for me since I was up to my neck with many troubles due to my immaturity in many aspects as the delay occurs in development. I was almost like a war criminal when the project was over (laughs).
You have to spend a lot of energy for this work, but from the perspective of director, it is quite difficult to reach perfection or satisfaction. So I was doing my work, trying to make revenge against immaturity and raise quality of the product to its perfection during the course of development. Oh, it may sound misleading (laughs). What I want to say here is that the sense of accomplishment that can be shared with everyone is truly precious. If you are not satisfied with the outcome, you will be upset with your uselessness and if you stop there, you will lose. So you must seek for a chance and try it again.
I had an impression that Mr.Matsui excels at art in particular, but you said you were also active as a programmer in the past.
It's a long time ago and it was just a few years when I was a newbie. It was when I was involved in the first title ”Deron Dero Dero” … Although I’m repeatedly saying “Dero Dero” like nut now, I was writing codes with assembler language then. There were only two programmers in that project and I was a sub-programmer working with a brilliant senior programmer. So I was able to study to a certain extent without much anxiety. It's not something I can be proud of, but I think I could gain a good experience in terms of functionality and sense that are necessary for game programming.
Just as the game machines were becoming more and more sophisticated, I was able to conceive or dream of technical possibilities a bit of this and that and because I had such a backbone, it was easier for me to coordinate programmers, artists and other sections. Actually, programmers helped me a lot, making my crazy demands concrete with their efforts.
How did you develop your broad perspective and curiosity in literature, manga, motion, programs, etc.?
Hmm. When it comes to various fields, I was just rambling wherever my fancy led me. Comparing to specialized staff in each field, my knowledge is overwhelmingly shallow and not updated due to less repetitive experience. So I entrust specialists and they teach me many things.
Curiosity is sort of my nature. But I easily get bored. I can't say that at work, so I’m in a slightly different mode while working. But state of my mind is moderate because we have staff who can dig things deeper. I would be glad if there are people who find fetish in the introduced world and deepen it further.
Even if it's a thing like trivia, it requires a variety of perspectives for creative work. It's not a maniac attitude and of course you can't know everything about it, but it's important to have a wide scope. It is premised that you can feel deeply about a certain material and have the basis to be able to react more appropriately to the work.
Well, yes, it's true that there are many things that spread as needed by force of circumstances, and it is so much fun you forget about the time when investigating.
……That is an excuse for chaos in my brain, is that okay?
It's perfect (laughs). Because of your wide range of interests, you were able to support the independence of Soleil as a director who can take command across arts, projects and programs.
Well, as a director, of course, I want to be like that, but in the sense of supporting our company, I’m sort of a stopper for bathtub. This may sound too cool. But, it seems Soleil has many such stoppers.
By the way, how did you decide to make a Samurai Jack game this time?
I believe our achievement making "NINJA GAIDEN" had a major impact on this deal. We were entrusted with the development. It is a strength of our studio that we can create actions such as chambara (sword fight) and melee.
Since it is a famous animation known worldwide, it has been made into a game many times so far. But this time, the game we developed is based on the new season episodes broadcasted in 2017 for the first time after 13 years that settled the endless battles waged in the old season episodes. So I feel it quite exceptional.
What is the charm of the original "Samurai Jack"?
"Samurai Jack" contains a deep message, showing the virtues and the power of will that fragile human-beings should aim for. Mr. Genndy as the director brilliantly portrayed that message with the ultimately simple style and completely focused on its renditions in the face of fatal quality anxiety in animation. It's playful, serious and flawlessly composed. It is rare t find a perfect work that matches expressive intention.
How is "Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time" connected to the original anime?
It's not a game based on Season 5 as it is, but it is a story that develops from there. And the Samurai Jack World, which also covers episodes from the previous seasons, became the stage for this work. Using nostalgic part of the anime as a motif, new situations develop in the game.
Have you experienced any difficulty in terms of handling an overseas IP?
Not so much. But we needed to duplicate the development materials along with the English ones, so I’m grateful to the staff who took care of such communication. However, although they are not overseas IPs, we have worked with overseas clients many times. So there was no particular difference. People of Adult Swim, the IP holder, have been also flexible and given various considerations for us to concentrate on our development.
It seems very difficult to incorporate the work established overseas into games.
Well, it is a new addition to the already completed overseas IP, so it is certainly not that the scenario work proceeded that smoothly. Since there is also a trade-off between the original story and the game part, close communication was necessary for that work. But, the main writer of the original story, Mr. Darrick (Bachman) was quick enough! He came to Tokyo and finished the game scenario with great energy. He did it like a wizard!
For the game development, Adult Swim Games staff visited Japan several times. It was fun to have close communication with them day and night.
Mr. Genndy was also working on the "Powerpuff Girls" series as a storyboard and animation director, so I am a guy who often watched the series when I was a child, and quite fond of it, but what kind of person is he?
About 15 years ago when I was really into Star Wars again, I watched his “Clone Wars” on DVD. I started watching it without getting myself much up for it, but I got knocked down with its dynamic action scenes! I repeatedly watched those scenes. I didn’t know Mr. Genndy yet at that time, but those scenes were quite impactful.
When I first met him before the development, he looks like a good old man. But, he was actually the same age as me. Mr. Darrick, the script writer, and Gori, our project manager, were the same age as well. It was such a project, although it was just a coincidence (laughs).
I quickly became aware of his sharpness as a creator. He is an intense conceptor and the words he used to show his vision and guideline were cool, saying “No blue sky. No green grass.“
It's a palette that reflects his image as a color of the world where Jack's hope has faded. He has firmly decided so. It might be a popular wording, but the scenery of the anime takes form instantly in my mind when I heard the word. I thought, "Oh my god!" Isn't it cool to make TV anime with such a keyword?
Genndy Tartakovsky (Right):
An American animator. He is the creator of the animated television series “Samurai Jack (2001-2004,2017),” “Primal (2019-2020),” “Star Wars: Clone Wars (2003-2005),” and “Dexter's Laboratory (1996-2003)” on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim.
Above photo was taken during PAX East 2020 held in Boston.
Please tell us about the points you were most particular about in "Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time"
Of course, if a team specializing in action games is to create a game based on samurai anime, battle play unique to the game is the most important point. At the same time, the greatest value of this game is, of course, "Samurai Jack".
Extra twisting is not needed there. I just wanted to eliminate any botheration that makes noise so that the player can be smoothly immersed in the world of Jack. So I thought it's very important that the game style should be orthodox and easily accessible. Keeping that concept as a base, we are seeking for a high-quality and wide open sense of action that responds to the player’s wish to move his character without any hindrance.
In addition, since this is an IP whose unique world view is attractive, it was also a big development point to create a volume that makes its impression rich and fragrant as fans of "Samurai Jack" ourselves.
Since “Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time” is released just today (as of August 22 Japan time), I think it's about time to settle down, but have you already started working on a new game?
Thanks to everyone, Samurai Jack it is finally on sale.
New game? Yes, I’m on it. Although it’s still confidential, it will be a realistic one. Of course, it’s a high-end action game with Soleil mark for home console, but there are quite a few new approaches and it is quite challenging for creators. It won't come out soon, but please look forward to it.
I'm also a member of Soleil, but I'm looking forward to the new title by Director Matsui. Lastly, please tell us your future outlook for Soleil.
Especially as the range of my own work, I think I will continue to make battle action games. In this genre, which is constantly changing and advancing while placing value on a persistent modality, elements that you can feel more perfect are being put together in a better manner as a new big title is released each time these days. It's easy for anyone to see them on the screen.
Even if we have a specialty in action, we need to evolve constantly, receiving stimulus from our surroundings. So Soleil will have to continue to strengthen its development skills and abilities while driving itself forward for that purpose.
As we value each project and occasion, we would like to kick it up a notch every time we work on a project together with our staff and those who cooperate with us.