For those of you who'd like to check the first part of this mini-series, here's the link.
All right, so, where was I? Oh yeah, I was planning my strategy to approach Suda and Mikami. One of the ones that occurred to us was to sit next to Mikami during breakfast, very casual, not giving him the time of the day. Then, I would call my brother’s phone and this song would play (which so happens to actually be his ringtone) :
It would be pretty funny but we didn’t end up meeting him for breakfast in any of the days. On to the second day, which began with clothing preparations – my red and black “Travis Strikes Again” shirt – and going early so as to stay in the front row. We intended to attend every panel on this day so it worked out. The first topic of discussion was about education, and how video games can contribute to it, with Jordan Shapiro, Gonzalo Frasca, Jean-Baptiste Huynh and Peter Vesterbacka. This topic is very close to my heart, which makes me tend to wince a bit when it’s talked about; mainly because people some(many)times use “education” and “learning” as if they were interchangeable – which they are not.
This did happen a bit during this talk, but the people who participated did provide a pondered and relevant conversation that I really enjoyed listening to! Especially Jean-Baptiste, whose take on the topic at hand and video game design really resonated with my own views. The importance of knowing your crowd (in this case, kids), respecting them and listening to them is one of the crucial lessons in pretty much anything, and he knew how to convey that.
Next up, a director on The Witcher III, Konrad Tomaszkiewicz, would be talking about storytelling as a tool for making open world games. The Witcher series is one I have not played, but my brother is at the moment playing the latest installment after having played the second one. Nonetheless, I have seen him play them and can appreciate their narrative writing, so I was looking forward to it. Unfortunately, I believe this would have had worked better as an interview. He didn’t seem very confident in this presentation style, while for the Q&A part he looked much more relaxed. The insights on the way they wrote the narrative for these games was interesting, particularly the expectation that many players probably wouldn’t see a sizeable portion of the content they created.
Now it was time for my personal main-event: “Suda 51: grass-hopping from punk to business”, an on-stage interview with Goichi Suda. The man appeared in a Let it Die t-shirt and some fabulous shiny shoes, being almost immediately approached by some fans who he was pleased to take pictures with and sign stuff for. My brother looked at me like “should we go?” but I said we should do it after the interview. Not so much because I still had my heart racing and didn’t know what to do, but because it would probably be more considerate that way.
Ok, now I’ll try to convey exactly what happened just before he got on stage. As they were prepping him with the microphone and such, he looked in our direction and paused for a bit. My brother noticed that and told me “He’s looking this way!”. As I prepared to look, we came in front of us, pointed at my shirt, said “Sugoi!” and asked the guy who came with him to take a picture! I gave him a thumbs-up, he gave me a thumbs-up and then sat down.
This guy, whose work I admire so damn much, just acknowledged my existence.
The interview itself was pretty cool, and I’m glad it wasn’t as business-heavy as the name would’ve led you to believe. It was focused on many of his games, about his inspirations and working with other people. They tried to get something about Let it Die from him, but he wouldn’t buckle. There was also mention by Suda himself that in 3 years’ time it would be Grasshopper’s 20th anniversary and his 51st, towards which he would like to celebrate in some way or another, but still didn’t have concrete plans for it. At the end there were some minutes for audience participation; I didn’t want to feel like I was potentially impeding other people from asking questions, so I looked around and behind me, didn’t see any hands in the air raised my own, Goichi-kun pointed at me and it was interaction time! Despite the many things I’d like to know, I asked him about the Silver Case remake that has been in the air for more than 5 years now, and if it has been scrapped or if it is still a possibility. I was somewhat expecting the cancellation to be “officialized”, but no. He said he still really wants to make it happen (which doesn’t mean it will happen, but I can keep on hoping).
As soon as clapping ceased, a lot of people were already forming a “line” – I say this loosely – and despite being right at the front I still had quite some people in front of me. Suda was happily indulging all the fans that came to meet him, but there were people asking was to wait for later because there some appointments with the press for which he was already half an hour late. I then went to speak with his translator – a lovely lady by the way – asking her if there would be any problem in approaching them later, to which she said it would be perfectly fine, he as just really late for these arrangements. On their way out, I shook Suda’s hand and asked him if I could take a picture later, and he also replied affirmatively.
My brother and I went to have lunch quickly so that he wouldn’t sneakily get past us. We returned to the area where the conference was being held, and waited. I went to our room to get something and when I got back my brother also wanted to go there. Of course, not long after this the Grasshopper posse came out of the press room. I was sitting, writing something, and from the corner of my eye I saw Suda pointing towards me but being dissuaded of coming in my direction. I looked towards him and waved my hand, a gesture he returned, and went on to talk with his translator. I told her I supposed they still hadn’t had lunch, that I didn’t want to be a pain and if they would be around for Mikami’s panel. She said that since they were so late for lunch and would have to leave at 4 p.m. (the panel was at 3.30) they would try to go but I’d have to somehow squeeze in there. While we were talking Suda was already signing more stuff, taking more pictures…and there I was. My idol was right in front of me, I was trying to call my brother who was nowhere to be found, with a chance of getting something really important to me slipping right through my fingers…
Well, that was too intense and amazing; time for an interview with Shinji Mikami, who was also being honored for his work. We went to our room to check on photos and I need to charge my phone. We entered the room and this time sat on the 3rd row. A bit before the interview began, I realized I didn’t have my phone for my brother to take a picture with Mikami, but he said that wasn’t a problem.
I gathered two main things from this interview: Mikami seems like a really humble person – according to himself, his greatest accomplishment was being able to have fans as passionate as his – and he really wants to return to God Hand. When asked which of his franchises he would like to “resurrect”, he immediately answered “God Hand! ... Well, it’s not really a franchise but I’d like to make it one”. We also got time for questions from the audience, and I was checking if my brother wanted to ask him something. Some people asked questions, but it was after the interviewer said “This will probably be last time you get to ask Shinji Mikami anything” that he asked for the mic. His question? “If you manage to make another God Hand, will we see the return of the Mad Midget 5?”. I was giggling, and pretty much everyone in the audience seemed to not understand what this guy was even talking about, even the translator who’s a guy who localized many of his games. Mikami though? “Yeah, they’ll be back.”
Once again, after the interview people were already forming another “line” to talk with the interviewee; this was considerably bigger than what Suda got, and his wasn’t that small. My brother finally decided that he wanted pictures and went to get my phone. While he was there, the mob began moving outside to give space for the next speaker. My brother then came back with this.
We then listened to another presentation on writing in games, by David Gaider from Bioware. He mentioned and raised some interesting issues related to writing narratives for games, and I enjoyed it a fair bit. Much like with the Witcher, my brother was the one to play the Mass Effect games, but video game writing in general is something I care about so it was cool like that. The day ended with Professor Iwatani being awarded the Industry Legend award. We were somewhat tired from all the emotions, but this panel was great! Iwatani-san and his translator – unlike the other talks this one was in Spanish – were so jolly, so funny and humorous on one hand, and were saying such interesting stuff about player experience and game design on the other, that the day couldn’t have ended on a higher note. Before this I didn’t know that one of the motivations for creating Pac-Man was to make the arcades being less of a place for boys and foul smells, and more for the female crowd to join in. He also knew what’s up.
There was still a day to go, but this was just too outstanding. It’s a real privilege to not only listen to these people talk, but also to interact with some of them. These so called legends from an industry I love so dearly, who you end up realizing are also “people”. And that’s what gives them even more merit for what they’ve achieved.
I still had Whitney Hills, Scott Gaynor and Tom Jubert’s presentations ahead of me, which were amazing on their own right, let me tell you. I didn’t get to talk with them, but I wish one day I’ll be able to. Then, on the night of the last day I was having dinner and recollecting with my brother what had happened during those 3 days, and how it was worth every penny to get there. Well, it wasn’t over yet.
We got back to the hotel, and who was down at the bar near the entrance? Suda-san and Mikami-san, along with their respective companions. “Want to go over there?” I asked him. We went to have a coffee, and I suggested we sit in a table next to them. A couple of minutes after being there (they hadn’t noticed us), their translators left! Onward to about 10 minutes of awkwardness, of us just sitting there while our favorite game creators were drinking the night away.
My brother, who was not drunk but had drunk enough to raise his spirit, decided to go there and say good night. There we were, telling how much we appreciate those guys’ work, not knowing if they understood us or not. We shook hands, and suddenly Mikami tells us “Ganbatte!”. Suda looks at him, looks back at us and also says “Ganbatte!”. It was nothing short of magical. In the middle of the night, these guys were telling us to do our best and wishing us good luck.
Honestly guys, I may never meet Suda 51 or Shinji Mikami again, and I probably won’t, but I won’t forget the last words my idol said to me:
“We are drunk!”
Have a nice [insert time of day you're in when reading this] and enjoy life. Yours, preferably.