Yohei Kataoka, who entered the game business after making it into Sony's "Game Yaroze" game-creator project, is the main man behind Tokyo Jungle. Remember Tokyo Jungle? The PSN downloadable game where Tokyo's an abandoned wasteland and you control animals like deer and lions and Pomeranians in a survival-oriented story mode? That one.
It was a pretty nutty title, and as you'd expect, Kataoka (head of indie game studio Crispy's) had an unusual route into the game business. His first inspiration came in his early youth spent in the northeastern US.
"I lived in Boston when I was young," he told Famitsu magazine, "and I ran into the NES for the first time when I was three or so years old. I wasn't all that good at English at the time and so I had trouble getting along with a lot of the local kids, but I got invited to this party by the family of one of my friends and they had an NES."
His first games? "Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt," Kataoka replied. "You got both if you bought an NES at the time, and so I was at this party and there were ducks on the screen. You used a light gun to shoot them down, and it was like 'Wow! Awesome!', right? And then you went from that to Super Mario, and that was even crazier! It's a game focused on the player; it really makes you feel like you're adventuring around as Mario, and it really amazed me. This image on the screen is moving around like magic, following my will. It was a huge shock to me; it was like the whole world looked different after that."
So Kataoka asked his parents for his own NES...but instead he got a (then brand-new) Game Boy, which came with a free Tetris cartridge. "But if you're four years old," he laughed, "Tetris just isn't that interesting to you, right? It's just a bunch of blocks falling. So I asked my parents to buy me Super Mario Land, but my dad said 'It comes with Tetris, that's enough, you don't need more.' Eventually I started crying in the store, like 'Buy it, buy it!!' and my mom, exasperated, said 'Won't you just buy him Mario?' I wound up never even playing Tetris, because my grandmother played it all the time instead. Me, I played nothing but Mario."
For someone like Kataoka, who's now working with Goichi Suda on a game based on anime film Short Peace, style and originality are key to any game project. "I think that going forward, authors' style and regionality will become really important," he said. "Right now we have a vastly larger number of markets to sell games in, whether it's Steam or the App Store or Android. All three console makers have online markets now, and with all these established markets, I think that'll naturally expand the potential audiences. That makes me think that games which are like 'Only this guy could've made that' or 'Only this country could make games like that' will become more valuable. I feel like that increase in value is what's creating the wave of successful indie games."
Kataoka (who returned to Japan as a child) emphasized to Famitsu that, in his opinion, you can never escape the atmosphere you grew up with when creating games. "I was raised in Japan as a Japanese person," he said. "I played games and read manga; I got into Godzilla and so on. I was raised in that culture, and my identity is borne from Japanese culture. For someone like myself, I can't directly aim to create a game that Americans will like. Everyone knows the US market is huge, and of course I want to make a game that sells over there, but I have a Japanese identity at my roots and I can't just weed that out. Instead I think I can use that as a strength to give originality and regionality to my games. I want people overseas to think 'We could never make this game. This is awesome!' After all, that exactly the kind of shock and surprise Nintendo gave to people way back when."
Not that he's against working on AAA titles or anything. "Of course, I think it's important you extend on what you've cultivated, expand on that to make great games," he explained. "That's a valid approach. But that's not the direction I've taken. I present people with this concept, like 'What about this kind of game?', and I try to shock people the way I was first shocked with Super Mario and Duck Hunt. Things like sequels are naturally important, and I think it's games like that which have created this field for people like me to get involved. So I want to create more value for this business by always continuing to build new things."