Following a lucky and happy encounter with the creators of Archime-DS in November 2007 (notably Kenichi Nishi, designer of Giftpia and Chibi-Robo; you can read about it here by the way), I met them for an interview and night out in early January.
The interview was tricky business, as their English is limited, and my Japanese is, rather embarrassingly, even more limited. It was a little confusing and exhausting for everyone, but also a lot of fun! In the following transcript, I have aimed for a balance between capturing the haphazardness of the conversation, and making it readable for ordinary humans.
The date is Wednesday the 9th of January, 2008. The location is an upstairs room at Skip’s small office in Sendagaya, Tokyo. The interviewees are...
Worked for Squaresoft on Chrono Trigger and Super Mario RPG, before co-founding Lovedelic (Moon, LOL: Lack Of Love) in his late twenties. Lovedelic eventually split into Vanpool and Skip (Giftpia, Chibi-Robo), the latter also co-founded by Ken. Recently he started yet another, one-man company, Route 24 (Archime-DS). Kenichi has youthful, attractive features and a relaxed, easy-going manner.
A young, freelance programmer with a close relationship with Skip. He programmed Archime-DS, and also worked on two of the bit Generations games for Gameboy Advance. If I’m remembering right, he just turned 30 – but he looks a few years younger. Perhaps it’s his magical Japanese genes; perhaps it’s his innocence. Fumihiro is good-looking and friendly, but softly spoken and a little shy.
Skip’s general manager and account manager. Miki, too, appears younger than she is, because of her cheerful attitude and cute features. On the other hand, her youthful attitude reveals her actual maturity: for instance, young Japanese women always cover their mouths in embarrassment when they laugh. Miki is much more relaxed and open. Also she can drink properly.
Without further ado:
* * *
[Note: hikarin is the artist, and Hirofumi Taniguchi the musician, for Archime-DS.]
Patrick: I’m interested – Archime-DS is created by you...
Kenichi: Created by us. [gesturing]
Patrick: But, by Skip employees. And hikarin and Taniguchi, they work for Skip sometimes. So, it’s created by Skip people, but it’s not a Skip game.
Kenichi: Yes, no, yes – I think it’s a Skip game.
Patrick: Oh, okay. So what’s the difference between Route 24 and Skip?
Kenichi: You know, I used to be Skip’s vice-president. My friend and I made Skip – I am a founding member of Skip. Two years ago, I made a new company – it’s called ‘Route Nishi’ [Route 24]. Route Nishi is my ‘solo project’ company; my solo company. I quit Skip last year.
Patrick: Oh, okay.
Kenichi: I want more freedom. I need more freedom. That’s the reason I quit Skip.
Patrick: I wasn’t clear about that. So you don’t work for Skip. But you have a relationship, of course.
Patrick: I see. But you were the second in charge of Skip, so why did you feel you didn’t have enough freedom?
[Kenichi talks in Japanese about it being difficult to answer in English.]
Patrick: It’s difficult, right?
Kenichi: You know, Skip has so many employees. Right? And, so many employees need a big project. Right? But, I don’t want to make big games anymore.
Patrick: Right, right.
Patrick: I think I understand. A big game costs a lot of money, so it has to make a lot of money. Is that why you felt less free?
Miki: It’s because... he wants to make games, but, if a game can’t make enough money for all the employees, his choice of what game to make is limited. He has to choose a project that will make enough money. That’s why he has less freedom.
Patrick: I understand.
[laughter; Miki’s response was far more disjointed than I’ve transcribed it]
Patrick: Because many artists go solo for the same reason. In game design, in... the past five years or so? – many famous game designers have left their companies. For example, in Japan...
Kenichi: Yes, so many famous Japanese game creators have gone solo. I know. Some of my friends have gone solo.
[Trivia: This includes Tetsuya Mizuguchi. At dinner, after this interview, I learned from Ken that he, Mizuguchi and Kenji Eno (Enemy Zero, D2) are a trio of best friends. I then had the pleasure of meeting Eno, who is a big, cheeky pisstaker.]
Patrick: How many employees does Skip actually have?
Miki: More than thirty people; almost forty. We have three divisions, and three offices. Here, and two more.
Patrick: So this is office number one?
Kenichi: Head office.
Patrick: So, you chose to make Archime-DS, which is a very small game – only five people, who are yourself...
Kenichi: The programmer is Kanaya, Taniguchi is sound design, hikarin is graphic design...
Patrick: So who is number five?
Kenichi: Hashimoto-san. Do you know Saragakucho? A Japanese game tuning company.
Patrick: I’ve read about them, just a little.
Kenichi: Hashimoto-san is the boss of Saragakucho. He produced Archime-DS for us.
Patrick: Like, tested it, and...?
Kenichi: Uh... mental care.
Patrick: Like... looking after you.
Kenichi: Yes, yes.
Patrick: Like Mum.
Kenichi: Yes, yes, yes.
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