Namco Bandai's Keita Takahashi is the creative genius behind Katamari Damacy and enfant adorable of the games world. Outspoken, iconoclastic and endearingly humble he's always ready to take on the industry, and usually with counter-intuitive views.
In his keynote speech at the recent GameCity festival in Nottingham the barefoot developer discussed world pollution, environmental responsibilities and why games are a luxury. "If you're suffering from poverty and disease could you worry about collecting coins? I don't think so," he said.
We bagged an exclusive interview with the designer to find out more about his latest title, Noby Noby Boy, what irritates him about the industry and why he may be moving on from Namco-Bandai in 2009.
What were you doing as a creative person before the games industry?
Keita Takahashi: I was at art university and was working on sculpture. By the end of the university era I grew bored with making 3D models so I decided to do something else. Then I tried to express my 3D modelling experience in a games company.
Do you think there's a link between sculpture and making 3D models in games?
Takahashi: During my university time the art I was making was more like tables and creating things that make people laugh. Fun things. So when it came to games I wanted to do the same, to make things playful. My philosophy in that sense is the same.
In Japan are people able to move between creative disciplines more easily?
Takahashi: I don't feel there's that much difference between the UK and Japan. The main reason I wanted to jump is that I studied sculpture in university so it allowed me to move relatively easily.
Did you come into Namco with many ideas or just one main idea?
Takahashi: I joined Namco as a visual designer so I didn't have any game ideas in that sense.
Where did the inspiration for Katamari come from? Was it a long process or did it come out of the blue?
Takahashi: Katamari Damacy came to me in an instant. However, there was a period when I was thinking about what a videogame could be. That period was much longer than when the Katamari idea suddenly came to me.
So did something in the real world inspire the original concept for Katamari?
Takahashi: There was nothing specific that inspired the game but I do remember the time when it happened. I had just finished work and was walking through the station. Then the idea for Katamari came to me. I talked about it on the train, got off the train and thought about it some more and realised I could turn it into a game. The next day I went into the office and had a word with a friend. We had a chat about it and realised it would make a great game.
It sounds like you had a lot of creative autonomy at Namco. What was the reality? Were you able to come up with ideas and start working on them without too much interference?
Takahashi: At the time my manager was very understanding and liked my work so he would take my ideas to management level. It was him that put it up to management level.
And was the original idea received warmly by Namco's upper management? Did anyone say it would never work?
Takahashi: Actually Katamari was interesting because it didn't go through the normal procedure at the time. There was a seminar within the company at the time and the idea went through the seminar to the management, which was unusual. The seminar was a kind of model case for newcomers to the industry to actually learn how to create videogames.