I met Suda51 Yesterday

Yesterday, I experienced two of the most simultaneously awesome and embarrassing minutes in my life.  I met Suda51.

I have a friend, whom I shall occasionally refer to as a “Japanologist”, who is at fault for yesterday’s experience. She’s an Asian Studies major with whom I’ve been friends with for quite a while. Before she was an Asian Studies major, she was in Physics, and got a BS in physics, and also a BA in Japanese. She’s more or less abandoned the physics, but I still consider her a peer. As such, I have decided that as she’s a scientist she should be pursuing everything in a scientific manner, so since she’s studying Japanese and other East Asian things, she must be a “Japanologist”. Just the usual poor attempts at humor, and an odd nickname, from me, really.

The Japanologist friend of mine is an Asian Studies major at Pitt. She informed me on Friday night of a symposium I might take interest in. It all looked pretty boring, for I have no interest in Noh Drama and things like that. There was a segment devoted to videogames, but I’ve never thought highly of ‘professional’ interpretations of the video game industry, being a longtime gamer myself. Usually I find myself disappointed, so I decided not to go, to avoid such disappointment. I was about set on not attending the event at all until I noticed Goichi Suda, aka suda51, was attending. I was amazed, and decided I would go.

I arrived at the 2009 Toshiba International Foundation Symposium just after the segment prior to the video game segment, so I had time to sit down next to the Japanologist, and catch up with an old Japanese teacher of mine who happened to be sitting in the row in front of us. Then, the segment “International Influence of Videogames” began. Two associate professors and a PhD candidate did presentations before Suda51’s turn. My memory of the presentations is still a little hazy, so I’m getting the Japanologist to help me out in describing them. All in all they weren’t bad, and I regret not having brought material with which to take notes.

The best of the three presenters, probably, was a professor from MIT and Ohio University, Mio Consalvo. The first sentence spoke well of how relaxed she was as a presenter. I forget the exact line but she apologized for being a “noob” to the Japanese side of things, instead being someone who researches games. She talked briefly on how games are viewed differently in japan in terms of how they fit into the story, using the box art of a Gundam 00 game for the DS as an example. She didn’t really get into this in very good detail and didn’t talk much about the direct relevant of Gundam aside from claiming it was relevant, which I found disappointing. She then talked about how Japanese companies are working on globalizing games, how Japanese companies aren’t doing as well as they used to be in foreign soil, etc. Then she talked about games themselves. Final Fantasy XI was a key focus, due to the co-mingling of users from different continents on the same server, which contrasts with how other online MMOs do business. Positive and negative consequences of this were discussed, like the opportunity for a thriving cross-cultural community but also issues with players taking offense at people from other countries not following the unspoken rules of parties. Quotes from real gamers and other anecdotes abounded.

She then went on to describe some of the practices of Western Otaku and how it relates to this. Some examples were the hacks made to turn off the autotranslator, and more general things like what sorts of things cause people to take interest in Japanese stuff. I know of at least one project of people trying to translate a game, Super Robot Taisen J, so that people who don’t know much Japanese can appreciate it. This was more or less in line with what she was saying, about how fans want to be able to give back to the community. Another point which rang even truer with me was that interest in Japanese games leads to more interest in general in Japanese culture. I have a copy of “Rockman & Forte” for the Super Famicom that I bought in 1999 because I was terribly dissapointed in the fact that the early death of the SNES in America killing its chances of being released domestically. It’s been so long I forget where exactly this event was in the history of my interest in Japanese products and culture, but this spurred on interest somewhat. So, the segment related to this wasn’t exactly news to me, but still a clear sign she was doing something right.

Next was Yuko Aoyama from Clark University. This was a somewhat dry, historical look at the evolution of the videogame industry in three different cultures and how the industry has been evolving up until now. It was very enlightening, more so than the first presentation, though not as upbeat. The basic breakdown was that Japan’s comic and film industry had a lot more people in common with the upstart videogame makers in Japan, while in America these groups were distinctly disjoint, instead sharing only people with consumer electronics and computer-background people, and that the UK was somewhat similar to America. She then talked about the evolution of the industry, the times it almost failed, and that user-created content is up and new, whereas the Wii seems to take the philosophy of “The Consumer doesn’t know what’s good for them”, using an old quote from someone else as an example of where this philosophy comes from, and that they abandoned the Hardcore.

I found this amusing, that she was saying this in the presence of the maker of No More Heroes.

(I don’t full agree with that being Nintendo’s objective, but it should be pointed out that they’re walking their own path because they’ve been pretty successful so far. They outlived Sega, and manage to still survive after the terrible setbacks the PS1 set for them, to be alive today. I think a quote that sums this up comes from the times of some new Zelda’s (I think it was Twilight Princess) early development. There was some question as to whether or not a Zelda game needed voice-acting. Reggie Fils-Aime said in response about one criticizer “Matt said Zelda won’t be epic without voices. I remember the last time Matt made a critically acclaimed game. It was called the Mailbag.” It’s not that Nintendo doesn’t care, but they’ve been in this business long enough to think they know what’s best. How true this is remains to be seen.)

The third presentation was given by Rebecca Carlson, a PhD candidate from the University of Pittsburgh. The project and potentially presentation slides were done by both her and Jonathan Corliss, but only Carlson did the presentation. While Consalvo was relaxed and confident and Aoyama was serious and confident, Carlson came off distinctly less confident than the other two, and maybe a little under pressure. Given that the other two are established Associate Professors, it in retrospect seemed natural for a prospective PhD to not be as experienced in presenting. Still, this sort of effected how well I remembered the material and how well the various parts seemed to flow together. The general theme of the talk was about the man-machine interface, using pictures from Ghost in the Shell and asking about where, in high technology, humans end and technology begins. In videogames, there’s a similar degree of immersion, in both the immersion of the world and forming a bond with your character, and that the videogame interface becomes a part of you as you explore these virtual worlds. Then, she moved on to discuss the more immersive games having very unique worlds that are often damaged by localization. This bit was hard to follow; while the individual points made sense, the linking between them felt like it could’ve been more clear. She did use killer7 as an example, I believe being used as showing how a game can cross cultural borders. Again, interesting since Suda51 was there.

Finally, after all that, the moment I had been waiting for occurred.  Suda51 got up to give a presentation. As he began to speak in Japanese and his translator translated, my heart dropped a little bit. There was, perhaps, a countably infinite number of things I wanted to talk to him about or ask him about. However, my knowledge of Japanese is a little weak, and I realized that I was unable to articulate most of what I wanted to say into Japanese. The previous presentations had run longer than the folks at the symposium were expecting, so Mr. Suda dropped a lot of material from his presentation. He had planned to talk a lot about different game types in different regions, judging by the omitted slides. I would’ve liked to hear his take on it, but oh well. He talked about his time at Human Entertainment, and how the games he made during that time were only for Japanese audiences. Then, he talked about his time in Grasshopper Manufacture, and focused chiefly on his experience in making killer7. A picture of the game’s box, and of No More Heroes’ box both appeared on the screen behind him as he discussed killer7. killer7 was his chance to make a game entirely the way he wanted to do it, so all the inspiration came from himself. For NMH he wanted to make it a bigger hit internationally so he looked to other forms of media for inspiration, and thus it was difficult. According to his translator he said that “making a game is a lot like taking a dump”. Generally, a lot more time was spent discussing killer7, however. This was probably due to time constraints, but I’m just guessing. He then discussed how he ran things at Grasshopper Manufacture. He closed with a picture of No More Heroes 2, and said it would be coming out in January.

So, after things wrapped up, there was where the excitement began. Let me say this to start; I’m quite bad at talking to people who I feel are seriously important. Combined with having to carry out the discussion in a foreign language, I was terribly nervous. I asked my Japanologist if she’d translate for me, but she was quite rusty when it came to Japanese as well, given that she’s been taking a lot of courses focusing on Asia as a whole. Also, I didn’t know what I wanted to say, which of course makes it hard to translate. I waited patiently as another pair of students with rusty Japanese talked to him. He’s very patient with this, which relieved me. I told my friend a few things that I planned on saying, to work it out in my mind, in case I stalled up. So, eventually, I talked to him, shook his hand, and tried to speak to him in Japanese to tell him that I was a big fan of No More Heroes and that I was very grateful he made the game. I perhaps spoke Japanese faster than I ever had before, traveling through filler words (ano, eto) at an amazing rate. Somewhere along the line I stalled up and had my friend explain for me. She was stalling too. I ended with an incomplete thought, that I was glad he had the courage to make such a violent game for the Wii. Were I speaking in English, I would have elaborated on it, but he seemed to get it. I then tried to say that I was looking forward to the sequel, only to flop at the end by forgetting how to say “look forward to”, so the Japanologist offered a few words, one of which was “look forward to” and the other of which was “buy”. I almost forgot that I had asked my friend to take our picture, only remembering when she asked him if she could take a picture of us.

And then we left. I was terribly excited afterwards. I regretted not having brought my copy of NMH for him to sign. My friend was pretty freaked out as well, largely by me putting her on the spot to speak Japanese. But aside from that, it was amazing.


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