[Inside the Mind of Suda Goichi] Long Interview, Part 1

Clocking in at 24 pages, this is truly a long interview with game designer and Grasshopper Manufacture CEO Goichi Suda, taken from "SUDA51 Official Complete Book," published in 2018. I'll be working on this over time as it is an enormous, but interesting, body of work.

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Pro Wrestling, Games, Anime... the Foundational Components of Suda Goichi

Up to now, you've sat for many interviews but once again, I'll be asking about your personal history from the beginning. First thing, how old will you be this year?

I just turned 50 this year. I was born on January 2nd, 1968 in Nagano City, Nagano Prefecture.

In all your interviews up to now, you've said "I didn't intend to get into the game industry." When you were a kid, was there a job you did have in mind?

An astronaut. Or should I say, I had a vague longing for space. Leiji Matsumoto-sensei's manga had a huge influence on me, I think.

Especially generational stuff like "Space Battleship Yamato" and the like.

Yeah. I went to see the theatrical version when it came out. Fujiko Fujio, especially F-sensei, also comes to mind when I think of our generation. I read all of their works I could get my hands on.

As for other things you were into, I believe there was pro wrestling. Speaking generationally, Antonio Inoki was in his heyday, I think?

I was into Tiger Mask. When Tiger Mask debuted, I was probably in my 4th or 5th year of elementary school. Truth is, before that point, I hated pro wrestling. Seeing things like people bleeding scared me.

I see (laughs).

Then one day at school, "this week Tiger Mask is coming out!" was all everyone was talking about. So, I watched the pro wrestling I usually didn't care for and I was like "holy shit!" It was so cool that the next day I bought an issue of "Gekkan Pro Wrestling" (laughs). From then on, I watched every broadcast without fail. Naturally I watched World Pro Wrestling and All Japan, then after that I checked TV Tokyo affiliate stations for "Sekai no Pro Wrestling".

Sounds like you were totally hooked. How did you get into video games?

That was probably Space Invaders. Maybe before that it was vector scan games. Also, there was one where you had to control a car by keeping it centered on a film screen.

Ahh, before real video games came out, there were those EM game cabinets.

Yeah, those. Before Space Invaders and arcades and the like, I would play at coin laundromats and machines tucked at the side of various buildings. I also used to go to the game corner of bowling alleys most often. When I went on overnight ski trips with my mom, I'd use the pocket money she gave me to play the games there, so I guess games were my favorite thing.

As for your studies in school...

I hated them (laughs). Or should I say, I wasn't interested to begin with. I was probably the last in class to memorize the multiplication tables (laughs). When it came to making things, I liked to draw pictures imitating manga. Another thing I did at school was playing analog games. Even in the case of menko, I came up with a cheat method by modding it with melted wax. There was also this popular pencil-and-paper battle game. There were battleships, aircraft carriers, and so on, and you had to slide the tip of a pencil over them, and if you wiped them out, you won.

I remember that!

In order to play you need a map, so I made a huge map at home to bring to school to play with... I thought that everyone would definitely enjoy playing with it, so I made it and brought it with me, but they were just taken by how enormous it was. (laughs). I think that might have been the starting point of my game design.

Ahaha (laughs). Were you still like that when you entered middle school?

No, I got off to a bad start when I entered junior high. I joined the tennis club for my club activity, but I came down with an illness that made my white blood cell count get way too high and the doctor told me I couldn't do any sports. So I ended up joining the "go-home club" instead. But because of that, I got to submerge myself in the otaku world of anime and pro wrestling. Right when I was in 6th year of elementary school, Kidou Senshi Gundam started airing, and I would read anime magazines like Animage, OUT, and Animec from front to back. I met a guy who loved anime and he would share lots of info with me. He'd ask, "there's going to be a screening party, wanna come?" and I'd go.

Down the path of a liberal arts otaku, huh?

Yeah, totally. At that time, I was reading a ton of books. Mostly Akagawa Jirou though (laughs). I read almost every work Akagawa published, plus a bit of Tsutsui Yasutaka.

That was during the golden age of Kadokawa films.

I was definitely a Kadokawa kid (laughs). I was such a huge fan of Harada Tomoyo that I thought, "I'm gonna go to Tokyo and marry her." I was an energetic chuunibyou (laughs).

And then your environment changed yet again once you entered high school?

Yeah. That was the era of yankees, so school was chock full of delinquents. It was always like, "which school did XX from that class come from?" (laughs). And then a liberal arts otaku pops into that scene. That was when I decided I would do club activities for the full 3 years, since I couldn't do any at all in junior high school and I still regretted that. However, I thought I might end up quitting mid-way if I took on a really strenuous club activity, so I decided to take an easy one.

Sounds good on paper, but things didn't go as planned (laughs).

Yep (laughs). I looked at all the different club options, and I thought badminton looked fun. So I joined the badminton club, but as it turns out, it was the second most strenuous club activity. We had to run something like 10 kilometers in a single day. On top of that, there was a second-year senpai one year older than me who was super strict, he'd smack my backside with a racket and be a real hardass about training. Because of stuff like that, there was about 15 newcomers at the beginning but it started decreasing from the first week. By the last week it was down to about 6. At any rate I thought if I did three years of that heavy-duty activity, something inside me would change.

I see.

In my second year at the prefectural meet, we won the team competition. We made it up to the Hokushin'etsu meet, so we were pretty strong. Well, once you reach the top, you gradually start to slack off (laughs). At one point I was aiming to win the countrywide meet.

Well yeah, there was no turning back (laughs).

As I started skipping club stuff, I got invited to play mahjong with my friends. Plus, I moved to the center of downtown Nagano, so my house became everyone's hangout spot. Whenever I went home after school, some people would swing by my place, some would go out on dates and some would just go home. Everyone at my house would mainly play mahjong, and I would play Famicom while waiting for a spot to open up. My house had completely turned into a mahjong parlor (laughs).

Ahaha (laughs).

There was something like 15 or 20 people who came to play in this 8 tatami room. And since it was a gathering of guys only, we'd have watch parties for uncensored porn vids (laughs). By the second half of my second year, I didn't do any club stuff and gradually spent more time on that instead.

A moment ago you mentioned Famicom. So your interest in video games endured?

Yeah, on the day Famicom released, I went with about 10 classmates to buy one. At first it felt like "not bad, surprisingly." That feeling changed with "Spartan X." Prior to that it was an arcade exclusive, so playing it on the Famicom was like "whoa?!" Then there's "Super Mario Brothers." That game peaked instantly.

A masterpiece among masterpieces.

I had to borrow Super Mario from my friend to play it. The day it released, my friend went to buy Super Mario and I tagged along. I figured I'd pick out one game to buy as well, but I chose "Super Arabian" (laughs). I played it at the arcade and I thought, "people don't know it but, this is a god-tier game" but when I bought and played it, it turned out to be a bona fide kusoge (laughs). And to say I spent 5000 yen on that game... I still regret not buying Super Mario back then. The first game I ever bought was "Super Arabian" and that's just traumatic.

Ahaha (laughs). After you graduated high school, what were you considering for your career course?

I wasn't considering anything, really. For the time being, I was thinking about going to Tokyo, and I talked about it with my mom as well, since I felt like it might have something to offer. At that time, I became interested in fashion as well, so I wanted to go to a fashion school. I thought that would be a good path.

So then you moved to Tokyo and enrolled in Tokyo Designer Gakuin College.

When you go to fashion school you have to learn things like how to use a sewing machine. "Shouldn't fashion designers be coming up with designs?" (laughs). I did lessons on pattern making and the like, but I didn't understand any of it, so I started doing different part-time jobs. The school was in Ochanomizu, but right next to Suidobashi Station was a Tecmo arcade.

Since the school was close, commuting was easy.

I worked part-time around there for a little while. In the time I worked there, the biggest surprise was "Genpei Tōma Den". The size of the characters surprised me, and the character movements were really smooth. Up until then I hadn't seen anything like that in terms of technology. I felt like it was beyond video games, including the art direction. "So there are people in the world who can make things like this." That's how shocked I was.

Other than that, what kind of part time jobs did you take on?

I quit school around 19 years old. There was a bag shop in Jingumae. I worked there for about four years, and learned lots of business know-how from the manager there. I did stuff like replenishing stock, placing orders from leather shops, and communicating with the manufacturers who made the products. I also did tasks such as taking bills the president had cut to the bank, and a few times a year I had to go on business trips. Eventually I started going on those trips by myself. He took me under his wing like, "Leave the future to Suda-kun," and entrusted me with all the work except for design and financial management.

But even so, you stopped working there. What was the reason?

The reason is pretty dull: I got into a fight with the manager (laughs). For one reason or another, working there I felt like I could see my future. I wanted to do design work, but that was the manager's domain, and there was no way I could interfere. But I felt like I wanted to try something different.

I see, I see.

So I think that fight was really because I wanted a chance. Then one day I just dropped everything and quit, and even though he contacted me afterward, I never responded. After some time, I wrote a long letter explaining why I quit.

What reason did you give for quitting?

My current wife read that letter and said "This is amazing." It was a weird compliment. "There aren't many people who can write about grudges at such great length." (laughs). I can't remember any of the letter's contents at all, but at that time I was still told "this guy might be able to write things."

So what work did you do after quitting the bag shop?

I went around doing all kinds of different jobs. I even got to do some work as a graphic designer. But what left the strongest impression on me was being a temp worker at a funeral home.

You've often talked about this in your interviews, haven't you?

The funeral home job was very lucrative, even for a temporary worker. I was one step away from getting a real position, and I kept getting asked, "do you want to become full-time?" But then I started thinking about why I came to Tokyo, and what it is I really wanted to do. Then I went to my graphic design job, and it reminded me of the scene over at Sega.