Interviews

Toshihiro Nagoshi: 'I'm committed to Sony hardware... we grew up together'

Sega designer on Binary Domain, Yakuza and console loyalty...

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Most of what we say out loud when we're playing consists of swearwords...

Ha ha, well, we've pushed it as far as we can! You can get angry with it if you like.

Both Yakuza and Binary Domain are set in Tokyo. Is Tokyo your inspiration?

When I first came to Tokyo it felt like such a big city, because I grew up in the country, and I was a little overwhelmed. But after I joined Sega, I got to travel around Europe, America and Asia and see all these different countries, and it made me understand just how special Tokyo is, and also how dangerous it can be. Tokyo is safe in many ways, but it can be dangerous too. I began to understand the values of this place better. Tokyo is a mysterious place for me, even now.

Even your futuristic subway looks just like Tokyo's modern one...

Here's the thing: we are Japanese people who live in Japan, and the world we can create most confidently is the world we live in for real. For example, if I were to think with my marketing hat on, obviously I'd conclude that a game set in the West will sell better in the West - or that's what they tell me.

Yes, we could just as easily set the game in New York or London. But if we tried that it could only look fake. We could take a million trips to that city but no matter what, it would look fake. Even a team of top-class Japanese developers couldn't make it look as real as a B-class studio based in that city. That's not a limitation of technology; it's a limitation of the heart.

I'd rather tell my stories in a setting I have complete faith in. And even if someone has never seen Tokyo, when they see the game they will nonetheless feel it's real. They'll understand that naturally. So forget the marketers; I wanted to make something real.

Yakuza is one of the few third-party games to stay exclusive to PS3. Why?

Zoom

When we were deciding which platform was right, it was PlayStation 2. I wanted it to be on the number one platform, so I didn't think twice before approaching Sony. The truth is, at first they turned it down. For the market at the time, they thought it was too niche; they were worried it wouldn't sell, and I got a quite disappointing reply from them. But I kept pestering them, and eventually they gave it a closer look. That's because they saw the passion I had for the game, rather than anything to do with whether or not it would sell. So I'm very grateful. In as much as they were putting their faith in Yakuza, they were putting their faith in me. So at the very least I am committed to Yakuza remaining a game for Sony hardware. I feel like we grew up together.

How have gamers' tastes changed since the PS2, Xbox and Gamecube days?

Well, there are so many titles these days a game needs to be really catchy to sell, rather than necessarily a deep experience. One way in which things were better is that we had more variety, even among the big hits. Violent games, military, horror, sports - the genres are quite delineated now. The same thing that happened to Hollywood is happening even faster to games. If there's nothing unique about them, then what's the point in playing? I want to help get the industry out of the pinch it's getting itself into, and the only way is to be brave. You have to be bold.

Japanese games are not performing well abroad, so we have to think about how to turn that around. For example, Binary Domain was made by a Japanese studio and is set in Japan - it's very much a 'Made in Japan' game. So now we must make a game that makes people realise that 'Made in Japan' is a good thing. I could change my name to... I don't know, James or whatever, and make a game. But that's not me. I'm Nagoshi, and anyone can tell that I'm Japanese.

I think Japanese games should wear that 'Made in Japan' badge with pride and march boldly into the Western market. When Japanese actors find success overseas, it's not because they speak perfect English; it's because they project an image of themselves as a Japanese individual. That's what we need to do as well.

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