This interview was originally conducted in 2017, but due to personal commitments, I haven’t been able to upload it until now. Apologies in advance for the late publication.
Since his sterling start within the games development industry in 1990, Tetsuya Mizuguchi has been responsible for a plethora of classics. Under his leadership, and whilst at Sega, he was responsible for pioneering classics such as Sega Rally Championship, Space Channel 5, and Rez. Since then, and after forging his own path via his own companies (Q Entertainment and Enhance), he has continued to explore the integrating relationship between music and videogames (dubbed “Synaesthesia”) by helming titles such as Lumines and Child of Eden.
In a career spanning retrospective, I get to sit down with the great man himself (who refers to himself as Miz), and have the pleasure of asking his as to what inspired him to explore the possibilities of synaesthesia. Enjoy!
You’ve mentioned K Project as being the final part of a trilogy for which Rez and Child of Eden were supposedly the earlier two games. If this is the case, and if this entire synaesthesia project was intended to be a trilogy, does that mean that the final game will follow the same on-rails formula as set out by Rez, as well as the middle game that was Child of Eden?
You’re talking about the future? Hmmm… To me, ‘Area X’ in Rez Infinite is almost like a prologue for me. That means that I’m always thinking about the future and what’s next. So ‘Area X’ is almost like a prologue for the next one.
Have you started prototyping it?
Yeah, I’ve started prototyping. And it’s an experiment on what could be a future synaesthesia experience. We’ve tried with ‘Area X’, and I’m waiting for new technologies to emerge, in hardware and software. But the ideas for the next Rez or Child of Eden are already forming in my head.
You previously worked with a lot of ex-Team Andromeda staff members who went on to form UGA with you at Sega. They worked with you on Rez as UGA’s first game, and left Sega with you to form Q Entertainment, as well as work with you on Child on Eden. Even though you are the spiritual father and figurehead, and the person who conceived the idea, do you have any plans to work with ex-Sega staff on future projects now that you’ve recently formed Enhance?
I think there are possibilities, and I’m still connecting with some people from Sega and Q Entertainment. Sometimes we find ourselves working together, and sometimes we’re spread apart. Everybody is… travelling on their own grand adventure. So there are possibilities in the future.
You’re a famed auteur, and are up there with other celebrated game creators such as Hideo Kojima. With regards to Hideo Kojima’s exit from Konami, and after he formed his own studio, Sony were quick to snap him up with what is essentially a first party exclusivity deal. Now that you’re essentially a “free agent”, are you the only person associated with Enhance, or are you part of a bigger team?
Enhance is very unique, and like a union. Enhance is the publisher, producer, marketer, and takes care of funding and the creation of new IP. Enhance has alliances with artists and studios, and I already have a studio called Resonair which consists of artists and sound artists. I’ve realised that the team, and its changing forms, often depends on the type of project, so it’s always open. I realised this when I tested the production type and its many forms after working for Sega and Q Entertainment, and this changed all the time. I always had a big dilemma on how to keep the creative tension, where the company was getting bigger, we had more people, and we needed more managers. We then needed projects for these people, and this all led to a downward spiral. I wanted to stop this negative spiral, and started to ask as to how I can create a positive one. So my answer was a bit like what happens in the movie industry where everyone is freelance. We have many ways of financing, and we can publish digitally by ourselves, and we also have technologies such as Unreal Engine and Unity. Fifteen years ago, all of this was impossible. So things are becoming independent, and everyone is going indie. It’s very healthy.
But as part of that, and bearing in mind that you were part of the ‘PlayStation Experience’ event, and were showcasing the PS VR with Rez Infinite, and given that Sony have exclusive ties with Hideo Kojima, do you have any plans of working with a hardware publisher and making a platform exclusive title, such as the third part of the synaesthesia trilogy?
I’m always open to platforms and publishing, and I’m always looking towards new technologies and platforms, and am excited by this. I am always inspired by new technologies. When Sony announced the PSP, they referred to it as an interactive walkman for the 21st Century. So I asked as to what kind of casual music experience one could have with a game, with a headset at anytime and anywhere, and we got Lumines. With Microsoft’s Kinect, and because I had an image of what could be the sequel to Rez, and mixing it with the new technology that was the Kinect, I had a really big discussion with Ubisoft on how we could create a new experience, and this turned out to be Child of Eden. But yes, I am always open to new technologies.
You originally started your career making driving games, and you got bored of those, whilst also implying that the genre was in safe hands with the likes of Polyphony Digital and Gran Turismo. But after driving games, you’ve since gone on to tackle on-rail shooters and puzzle games. Are there any other genres that you would like to tackle in future?
Any genre is possible. We’re updating our synaesthesia engine all the time. You can design all things using the synaesthesia engine, where it uses music, visuals and haptics. It can be used for any genre, so I could make a driving or action game in future. I don’t really know yet.
What kind of game would you like to make in future?
Hmmm… synaesthesia (laughs). I don’t really care as to what genre it is. It’s all an adventure. I think Rez Infinite is kind of like an adventure for me. All the time, I am thinking of synaesthesia, and what the new synaesthesia experience could be, and I will use whatever genre it is that helps me with that.
You were responsible for Space Channel 5, which was almost like a Simon Says type game. Would you consider that to also be a synaesthesia game?
Hmmm… that was different. That was a fun project, and it was easy to create, because we factorized all elements of the music. Everybody loved musical plays, with people dancing, the singing… It made everyone happy. There were many elements, and we factorized all of these elements, and redesigned them for the game in order to make them interactive. We asked ourselves as to how we could make a happy-feel game, and we learnt a lot. So Space Channel 5 isn’t exactly synaesthesia, but it’s very similar.
Given that Space Channel 5 is a Sega IP, and given your history with Child of Eden as being a spiritual successor to Rez, do you have any plans for making a spiritual successor to Space Channel 5?
I don’t know yet…
If you do, how would you update the formula so as to make it more in tune with your synaesthesia design inspirational needs, what the market wants, and where you are in life now?
Space Channel 5 has a lot of potential, in any direction. Just from a social perspective, and with mobile phones, people can dance with each other and grab items. And if you use VR technology, you can dance in 3D.
It’s almost like those Ubisoft Just Dance games, and how they utilised the Wii-Remote and Kinect… I’m sure that the designers of that series were also inspired by Space Channel 5, because at the very least, there are also a lot of Simon Says moments within their franchise. And even Activision’s Guitar Hero series… All of those type of games… They came after Space Channel 5.
I don’t know, but we’re always taking inspiration from others. And reacting to others. So the designers must have taken inspiration from many things. So… I don’t know (laughs).
Rez is a game that you keep coming back to… Out of all the games that you’ve been associated with, whether they be from your days at Sega, Q Entertainment, or even now that you’re at Enhance, which game are you most proud of and why?
That’s really hard to answer, and is the big question…
Because you’ve been associated with quite a few genre defining games. For example, I bought a Sega Saturn because of Sega Rally…
If you want to make a driving game now, like Sega Rally, you can do it.
Not me personally…
Me too (laughs). Now you need to be an engineer, and make it realistic, so it’s an amazing job. But personally, I want to do other things. I think the synaesthesia area, with games like Rez, that’s all a white canvas. A big white space on which one can draw the future. With technology, this is a big thing. With Lumines, I asked how we could combine sound and music with storytelling and puzzles. And with puzzles, everybody could play. But there are a lot of old titles that I did that I am really proud of.
For game designers who want to follow in your footsteps, what advice would you give?
You should try, try, and try. Try to make a new experience. And don’t think about existing genres. Instead, make a game based upon your own instincts, wants, and experiences. People already know everything. Me… You… If you already know the formula, then you can create a new one.