MASAYA MATSURRA – Japanese Musican / Game Designer

July 3, 2006 — Leave a comment

David Perry Comments: Masaya_Matsuura is one of the most creative Japanese game designers in the industry. A musician that got into games, famous for Parappa the Rapper on the Playstation, but also did some really interesting projects like Vib-Ribbon. In a world were there’s lots of ‘me-too’ games, it’s really refreshing to have people like Masaya that are all about trying completely new ideas. Masaya also represents the Japanese community by sitting on the Advisory Board for the Game Developers Conference, and so he has a lot of influence on how Japanese developers are presented to the global Gaming Industry. I’m so pleased he was willing to take the time to answer our questions, and I hope you enjoy his answers!… (Note: We only have the translated English version here.)

What did your mother want you to do as a career? Surely, it couldn’t have been to make professional video games!?

I’m sure my mother wanted to make me a medical doctor when I was a kid, but when I was a teenager, everyone in my family thought I would be just a regular businessman.

What would you say to my mother, to get her off my back and let me make professional video games as a career?

When it comes to how I became a game creator and dealt with my mother, I would say my case is a little complicated. A few months before graduating from the university, I established a small company to make music. I clearly remember telling my mother “I am employed, now!” at that time. So, after the university, I started my own music unit and released 10 albums in 10 years from Sony Music. But for some reason, I started to create original video games. When my mother found out about this, she asked me “When did you change your job?.” In reality, I’m still an employee, so she’s happy either way.

It’s pretty tough (almost damn impossible) to get hired without industry experience on a resume. Should I lie? It’s the standard Catch-22, need a job to get experience, need experience to get a job. Imagine you are me, caught in the 22 — what the heck would you do?

I think, in most of the cases, an innovator starts their career from a position of adversity. If you think in terms of “being hired”, you will lose what makes your ideas unique.

The skills beneficial for video game creation are not simple. Learning from other industries could be advantageous for you, just like I did from the music industry.

If you can’t get the job you want now, you could end up choosing some other job. What you can do is to prepare yourself to get what you want, of course.

From another point of view, if someone only has experience in this industry and gets fired, it will be very hard for him to find a new job in other industries. My company, Nanaon-sha is always making very original and unique content. So from our point of view, someone with just regular skills is not very attractive.

I have several examples. For instance, some of our non-specialist-employees, like administrators, started out editing video or writing scripts. Their work turned out to be quite impressive, somewhat different from what we usually get from a video editor or a script writer.

People that never went to college in the video games business swear blind that colleges aren’t needed to get a job. Are they for real? Should I burn my books now?

As I mentioned above, I encourage you to keep improving yourself by learning new things throughout your entire life. Going to college is only a part of that. Of course, you may learn much more in college than you could working at a flower shop. But working at a flower shop, would become a great opportunity to get inspirations, for instance, to create a flower shop game. The influence you get from the job is hard to measure, but rich experiences will make you better for sure.

How did you get your big break? did you claw your way out of the testers’ pit? Did you sleep your way to the top? Did you sleep at all?

I always remember my early days, when I’ve started performing live shows with my college band members. Often times, we played for an extremely small audiences, sometimes comprised solely of band friends, girlfriends and so on. I used to wonder why no one had shown any interest in my music. Even now, I feel similar kind of things. Having a dream is easy, but facing it is tough.

In a yacht race, we often see a yachtsman man leaning over the edge of the yacht and sailing in the wind. That, in a way, explains how people might feel when trying hard to make it in a particular industry. But when it comes to game creation, it requires an even stronger driving force. It is like trying to maintain balance while putting my head under water. It’s even hard to find the time to take a breath. There is no time to keep a hairpiece intact (I’m not wearing one by the way).

Tell us about the first time you felt star-struck when meeting a leading game developer (and no, we won’t tell Mr. Miyamoto your real name). Do you even realize that some people will get butterflies in their stomach when first meeting you?

One of the most important things for me to remember when working in the game industry is that what attracts people most is the contents not the creators. In the music industry, you have to look up and dance on the stage even there if is no one in the house.

Without using terms like “indentured servant” or “voluntary servitude,” please describe your ideal protege.

The one who works with me or us for a long time and manages to create even greater content than I can in the end

Any advice on interviewing?

The only advise I can offer is, don’t arrange an interview session at a noisy place, like e3 exhibition floor, or a crowded bar, please.

What’s the most important ability I need for the future?

I think innovation lives long.

So what if I wanted to work with your team?

In case of Nanaon-sha, people who wish to join our company always come with their own idea or demos, but we ask how enthusiastic they are towards working as a member of our company and working in the industry as well.

OK, just imagine three companies make me an offer (a guy has gotta dream!). They’re all kinda low-end jobs, and I need to move 3,000 miles to take any of them. How do I pick the right team? What would you look for?

The low-end job with the distance of 3000 miles means they don’t have a particular reason to pick you. But, you will have to get to know these people living 3000 miles away from you and understand a completely different culture. If I have to pick one, I would choose the one in the country that I have most interest, or the most familiarity.

Finally, there are a TON of game development colleges around the world now. Imagine you had to start again, and have all the choices I have — how would you pick? And how would you convince your mother to get out her checkbook?

One of the reasons why many of the recent games are boring, might have to do with the game development education. Easy form of education puts some tiny frame over people’s knowledge and imagination. This doesn’t help them to take a big step. You should go beyond the boundaries and learn different things, be it complex cognitive science, robotics, brain science, logology, homeopathy, macrobiotics, philosophy, finance, or how to navigate a yacht with your head underwater.

I think future games always need resources from outside the industry.

Thanks Masaya!
Note: This series of interviews was conducted by one of our dperry.com contributors – Evan Shamoon.

Here’s his bio:
Masaya Matsuura graduated from Ritsumeikan University with a major in Industrial Sociology. An encounter with an Apple II Computer software “Kaleidoscope” at age nineteen changed his life dramatically. The images were mesmerizing, but he felt something was missing. He added music to it, his very first experience as a producer of computer entertainment.
In April 1983 Masaya formed the band PYS’S (pronounced “Size”) with female vocalist Chaka. The band pushed the frontiers of computer music, but the state of digital media at the time wasn’t enough to satisfy Masaya’s creativity. After ten albums and several hit songs, PSY’S disbanded in August 1996.
In 1993 Masaya explored new ground by combining music and multimedia with the release of The Seven Colors. It was the first CD-ROM from a Japanese musician and went on to win the Multimedia Grand Prix of 1993. The Seven Colors was followed by TOOL-X in 1994 and Tunin’ Glue in 1996, both multimedia music titles that offered completely new ways to enjoy music.
December 1996 saw the release of Parappa The Rapper in Japan. It was like no other game that came before it, and it took Japan by storm. Parappa The Rapper went on to win the 1996 CECA Award, the Japan Software Award, and was named Japan Game of the Year 1997 by the readers of eighteen domestic game magazines.
In 1999 Masaya crossed over from rap to hard rock with Um Jammer Lammy, and the game won an SCEI Gold disc after just two months. Masaya’s imagination doesn’t end with music games. Vib-Ribbon, released in Japan and Europe in 1999, is another game revolution that creates gameplay from the player’s own favorite music CD. Parappa The Rapper 2 was released in Japan in 2001 and is now available worldwide.
In 2003, Masaya produced and composed sounds for the new Aibo,”ERS-7″, which was very experimental and exciting work for him. Now in November 2003, Masaya releases mojibribbon for PS2 in Japan. This is a network title that has very unique style of blending rhythm and Japanese calligraphy using speech synthesis technology to convert text into rap sound.

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