This article originally appeared in Xbox World magazine.
Game offices in Japan are usually pretty staid. White walls, white partitions, peace and quiet - and leave your shoes at the door. But the swanky digs of Shinji Mikami's Tango Gameworks studio in the Aomi district of Tokyo's Koto Ward are a major exception.
The most obvious departure is the indoor sports pitch, where Mikami and his team can relieve milestone stress with a kickaround. But it's the smaller touches that show the care with which the office was designed, a deliberate attempt to create an atmosphere where people can make fun games. Above a games room fitted with consoles and a screen, there's a tiny cubbyhole which can only be reached by climbing an artificial rock-climbing wall, and where staff can read in solitude. Beanbags, cushions, brightly coloured furniture; Tango's office is more comfortable than most homes.
"Right now we have 65 full-time staff members," says Mikami, who is currently directing a new survival horror game tentatively titled Zwei. "The smaller the team the better. Of course, you need a lot of people to make a big title, but I want to be able to communicate with every person and hear their opinions. That would be impossible with 200 people. I don't want to run that sort of company."
WALK THIS ZWEI
In 2010, Tango was acquired by ZeniMax, officially becoming the gaming giant's first and only Japan studio. And since Bethesda Game Studios is now Tango's sibling, Mikami poses proudly beside a life-size Skyrim statue near the entrance, as well as one of Tango's own much smaller mascot, a snail named Tango-chan. "It's good to be able to start a new team from scratch; it gives you a lot of freedom to do what you want to do," enthuses Mikami, who hopes to be able to take the sort of creative risks with Tango he would never have gotten away with at Capcom.
A big part of his plan is to nurture less-experienced talents who will one day revitalise Japan's game industry."It doesn't matter how talented a game creator is, they can't be expected to work as a seasoned pro from the very start," says Mikami. "But they have fresh ideas. If they think an idea is interesting, they're motivated to make it happen."
The office's location is far from the centre of Tokyo, in an industrial area that hugs the bank of a narrow inlet to Tokyo Bay. Mikami chose the area for its remoteness: he didn't want to be distracted by offers to go socialising with other game companies. But by coincidence, on the inlet bank directly opposite lies Shinagawa Seaside, home to Comcept/Intercept - the company founded by Mikami's old Capcom cohort Keiji Inafune.
"Inafune-san is gifted with a very strong sense for business," muses Mikami. "He's not the type of person who deals with the intricate details, but his business sense is impeccable. As a producer he is very strong." It's interesting to think that from Tango's bright offices, Mikami will return to the dark world of horror. But it seems likely that the company's nurturing of fun and creativity will shine through in its games.