[Inside the Mind of Suda Goichi] Long Interview, Part 2

Note: there are spoilers for the ending of Super Fire Pro Wrestling Special: Champion Road.

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The Road to the Game Industry and the "Proof of Existence" within the Story

Oh, you mean your game advertisement work at Sega.

Right. I wanted to make games at a place like that. Up until then, I had this image in my mind that game makers wore white lab coats (laughs). But at Sega, everyone wears plain clothes and works with headphones on. And when I would see the CDs lined up on their desks, it was the same kind of music I listened to. I saw that games are made by real people, and at that moment I felt much closer to them.

You found out that people just like you are making them.

I wanted a job in actually making games, so I bought a job magazine and started looking. At that time "Human" and "Atlus" had recruitment ads out, and I didn't care which one I got into so I applied for both. I failed the application screening for Atlus, but landed an interview with Human.

What kind of proposal did you prepare?

I gave in a handwritten proposal for a game called Kakutou-Ou. It was a story of an amateur who became the fighting king, but that's probably because around that time I was more into pro wrestling than any other time in my life. It was right around that time that RINGS and UWF were gaining momentum, and 98% of my mind was filled with wrestling (laughs).

After that, I didn't hear a thing from them. About a month passed without any contact. Usually they would reject you at the interview, but they didn't even contact me to tell me I didn't make it. My wife said, "Why not give them a call?" So I tried calling them and they connected me to the HR guy who interviewed me. He remembered me and said "Please wait a moment" and put me on hold for a while before he came back and said "Can you come back this week for one more interview?" I heard this afterwards but, the director of "Fire Pro Wrestling" before me had given in his letter of resignation that same day.

What a coincidence!

Right? So right then, Human didn't have a person well versed in pro wrestling to work on their current project. Just by chance I decided to call them, they saw my proposal for Kakutou-Ou, and the previous director of Fire Pro called it quits. So many coincidences piled up at once that it felt like "it's now or never!" The door finally opened in front of me, and I slipped right in. To this day I still think "wow, I actually made it into this industry."

So with that, you joined Human. Was Super Fire Pro Wrestling 3: Final Bout the first game you worked on?

That's right. The former director had three more days before he left for good, so for that time I stuck to him like glue and he taught me all sorts of things. Then he said, "Well then, Suda-kun, I'll leave the rest to you." (laughs)

So at that time, about how big was the scale for Fire Pro's development?

There was a staffer who acted as support until the middle of the project, but basically there was me on planning, plus two programmers and two graphic artists. Sound was handled by another team, so our team was five people in total. When I think about game development now in comparison, the team back then was super small in scale. At the same time, when I look back, I think "Fire Pro 3" being the first game I made was a huge blessing. I had a model in the form of the previous game, and I myself was a fan, so I knew exactly what I needed to do to make it more powerful to please the fans of Fire Pro.There was no one who could rival me in pro wrestling knowledge, so I was easily able to lead the team on that. But obviously, I was a total rookie when it came to game production. The team had no faith in me whatsoever in that regard. But after lots of discussions about how wrestling works, I managed to gain their trust, and at the same time our team really solidified.

So it was the perfect environment for your directorial debut work.

It really was lucky. At the time, there was a ton of project staff who were left out. The project staff had over 20 people in total, but the title project lineup was only eight people.

Terrible balance as a company (laughs).

And because of that, there was a lot of staff who couldn't get a shot at being a director. In fact, there was a lot of staff that quit for that reason. In the midst of all that, I was able to work as a planner from the day I joined the company, which I think was lucky as well.

Next, you made the sequel "Super Fire Pro Wrestling Special." That game had a story mode called "Champion Road" in which a very dark, severe story unfolded...

Well first thing, when Fire Pro 3 was made, then-producer Yoshida Shuji quit working for Human, and at the same time I joined the team. Back then he said "Suda-kun, if you keep doing pro wrestling the same way it has already been done, you'll have nothing to worry about, but you'll only be known for that. I think you should challenge yourself more. I'm leaving the next Fire Pro to you, and I want to you make it however you want." So I decided that I would change Fire Pro.

And that's how you got the idea to add Story Mode.

For instance, I love Namco's "Family Tennis," but story mode in that is about just racking up victories, there's no ups and downs. I wanted to write a real story, not something like that. I wanted to include things like my own ego and my love for pro wrestling into my writing. I wanted to add in all the things I loved, like how I named the protagonist Morio Smith after Morrisey, the vocalist for my favorite band The Smiths, though I was thinking how embarrassing that is (laughs).

So you felt embarrassed? (laughs)

Yeah (laughs). I felt like "this is proof of my existence, that I'm definitely real." Kind of like a hanko seal. Win or lose, this is really me.

Speaking of Special's Story Mode, there was that problematic ending. After winning all the title championships, Morio decides to take his own life in the end.

That was probably because of Kurt Cobain (vocals & guitar of American band Nirvana, committed suicide in 1994). Back then, his suicide was a big deal for me. A kind of, "he's gone to the realm of the gods" feeling. At the time I didn't know anything about the deal with Courtney, so I took it as Kurt going to the realm of the music gods and as such, wouldn't be putting out any more works, that's how I interpreted it. Same with Morio Smith. He champions the world of MMA, and then without any more goals to chase, all that's left is to become a god. So he chooses death. There's nothing else left to his life. At first I was preparing a bad end and a happy end, but in the end I went with the bad end only.

I see.

Having a choice felt artificial. Just like we only have one life, he can only have one life. Also, I decided I wouldn't make any games that have that kind of choice, going forward.

Your games all have definite endings.

Though in the case of The 25th Ward: The Silver Case, I wrote an additional scenario and it had multiple endings (laughs).

What caused that change of heart? (laughs)

Honestly I have no idea but, when I started writing, the multiple endings just started flowing out (laughs). So I figured if I'm going to do multiple endings, I might as well write 100 of them.

Ahaha (laughs). Anyhow, having the protagonist choose to commit suicide in the ending must have caused quite a shock.

Fire Pro fans were understandably angry. But, my answer is that I had to do it. Yamazaki Masamichi from the sound team who went on to direct "Super Fire Pro Wrestling X" said "Suda-san, why did you do this, are you dying?" and complained to me like crazy (laughs). "This is definitely going to piss the fans off." I said, "I know that, but this is how I want things to go," to persuade him.

So there was that kind of dialogue within the team as well.

Yes. It was a declaration, in a sense. "This is my answer." Also, many pro wrestlers died in tragic ways. Nowadays they have a proper retirement, but back then, there were a lot that fought to the limit of physical exhaustion and then died. I wanted to show the way of life of a professional wrestler like Misawa Mitsuharu. "What is pro wrestling?" is what I asked myself, and my homework was to answer that in "Special." That's why I definitely - even though it would anger the fans - had to have Morio Smith die.

From New Romantic to The Smiths, Suda Goichi's Favorite Music

That was around the time it seemed like The Smiths were about to break up?

It was roughly right before their last album ("Strangeways, Here We Come") came out. Johnny Marr's guitar playing really surprised me. Then of course, there was the weird guy dancing around while waving a bouquet of gladioli (laughs). At first I was put off, but I gradually started to get into it. I watched a recording of that video on repeat until it wore out. After that, MTV aired a special feature on The Smiths along with the Queen Is Dead video, and that was cool as hell. Derek Jarman directed that video, and from there I started watching his movies. The Smiths were also how I discovered Manchester. Looking back, they had a really strong influence on me.

I see. What were your musical tastes like before getting into The Smiths?

When I was in high school I was into New Romantic. Stuff like Duran Duran and Japan. Also Ultravox, because I had a friend who liked new wave. There was a guy named Takahashi in the badminton club, I'd listen to records at his house. His tastes in music were a big influence on me. When we listened to Einstürzende Neubauten, he'd say "let's play Neubauten together" and we'd bang on air cans outside.

Ahaha (laughs). Were there a lot of people around you who listened to western music?

No, not really. That was the time of Harada Shōgo, Kai Band and Sano Motoharu. Also Osaki Yutaka and RC Succession and the like. Out of all the artists from then, the only one that hooked me was Duran Duran... I started wearing David Sylvian's (Japan's vocalist) hairstyle, but after a while I switched to Nick Rhodes (laughs). After that I got into U2, and from there I got into The Smiths. The big one was waiting at the end.

I see.

Also, aren't The Smiths an indie band? They went on to become a major band but still, they've got this ‘king of indie' feel to them. I rarely listened to indie bands before that, but when I heard The Smiths, it was like an eye opener... Their sound really changed my outlook on life. The Smiths have a real density to them, like a ‘the moment you touch you start sinking in' feeling... When I worked in the bag shop I listened to them over and over, and the boss got pissed because I was looping it so much.

Ahaha (laughs).

Whenever I get hooked on something, that's all I listen to. Now I only listen to sakanaction. It feels like as long as there's sakanaction, anything is possible (laughs). That hasn't changed. It's not like I'm just flirting around with this and that, I'm genuinely into their sound and their mindset.

What do you like about sakanaction?

First off, there's the lyrics. They're all in Japanese, and you can tell how much care they put into their words. Then also, they're from Hokkaido, right? I'm from Nagano, which is another cold region – how to put it, they're mostly songs about a boring man who longs to move from the north to Tokyo (laughs). So you could say the lyrics synced with me. I also like their approach toward their sound. It's unmistakably theirs, and I feel like I can easily get absorbed into it all. There's something special about it, and deep down I like them even more than The Smiths.