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Monster Hunter's director on re-energizing Japan's game industry

The director of the Monster Hunter series, Kaname Fujioka, never intended to create a multi-million dollar franchise, according to a recent interview with Famitsu magazine. He just wanted to draw, and he happened to be going to school in Osaka right in the middle of the Street Fighter 2 boom.

"SF2 was this game with really big and expressive characters, and it impressed in me everything that made games really cool," he told Famitsu. "I played a lot of non-Capcom games too, but I'd say Mega Man 2 on the NES was my favorite. Capcom had this image back then for making really tough, difficult games, but they weren't just difficult — if you thought up the right strategies, they were balanced to be beatable, and that attracted me as a kid. That, plus the big SF2 boom, made me choose Capcom as my workplace."

"My boss at the time said 'Well, why don't you just try being a director, then?' And that was it."

He joined Capcom in 1993 and spent a few years chiefly doing animation work for games like Darkstalkers, Slam Masters 2 and the first JoJo's Bizarre Adventure. How did he wind up directing Monster Hunter? "Really, I just sort of naturally took up that role somewhere along the line," he said. "I had an interest in making games, but personally I had more of a passion for making characters, drawing art and animations and such, and I devoted myself to that. Of course, games are driven by programming, so even if you devote yourself to characters, if they don't match with the game, then they're going to be cut. I'd have animation frames I worked hard on get cut out of games as part of the fine-tuning process. So I started complaining about this to the designers and such, and eventually my boss at the time said 'Well, why don't you just try being a director, then?' And that was it."

Thus Fujioka became the boss of the first Monster Hunter, which he describes as a generally harrowing experience. "Nobody ever said it to my face," he recalled, "but at the time, I was convinced that everyone was thinking 'Is this guy capable of anything?'. The people I had been working with before understood me pretty well, for the others, especially the programmers that I hadn't interacted with much before, I think the impression I gave was this graphic guy who did nothing but whine to other people. So I really clashed a lot with the programmers during the first MH."

Now, with MH a best-seller in Japan, Fujioka's become one of the most well-known directors in the business. What's his approach to the job? "You aren't just checking other people's work," he said. "You're a game-maker, although you aren't the main creative guy, either. Basically, you're looking over things to make sure you aren't going too far away from the game's concept. I try not to directly put my hand into too much. With Monster Hunter 4, for example, I wanted to boost the story aspect of the game. Everyone in the staff has their own work they've inherited from the last game, and I didn't want to mess with that — but if I wrote the scenario myself, I'd run out of time to direct the rest of the team. So I invited some writers and held discussions as we whittled down the concept. Some people can direct and write at once, but I think these people had a very different background from me. For me, being able to set up distinct boundaries is how I like to direct."

Monster Hunter may be a huge hit in Japan, but only a cult hit elsewhere — something Fujioka obliquely hopes to improve upon. "To be honest," he told Famitsu, "I don't feel the current Japanese game market has a lot of energy to it, and I want to get that energy back. I think the only way to do that is to keep making fun games and keep energizing and exciting the gamers.

"Lately I've been running into overseas gamers at MH4 events and stuff, people with these MH t-shirts who go all the way to Japan for these things. I love seeing that, and I wonder if we can expand on that. It's hard enough to launch a game in Japan alone, but for games like Pokemon that become worldwide hits, that energizes Japanese games across the board. I think there are qualities to Japanese games that only Japanese people can come up with, and I think it'd be great if we could expand on how we bring those strengths to the international arena."

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