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Rez producer Tetsuya Mizuguchi on his return to music games

Matt Leone has written about games for three decades, focusing on behind-the-scenes coverage of the industry, including books on Final Fantasy 7 and Street Fighter 2.

On Saturday at Sony’s PlayStation Experience press conference, Rez Infinite stood out as one of the biggest surprises of the show. A remastered version of the classic music-infused rail shooter, Infinite is heading to PlayStation 4 with bonus content, including the option to play it with Sony’s PlayStation VR headset.

It also marks the return of Tetsuya Mizuguchi, producer on the original Rez and classic titles such as rhythm game Space Channel 5, to full-time work in the game industry.

For almost 10 years, he served as the public face and creative lead at Q Entertainment, a studio he co-founded. The team earned a reputation for music games that have become Mizuguchi’s trademark, but as time went on it began to shift focus towards casual online games, leaving less room for Mizuguchi to do what he wanted. That, he says, led to a conflict a few years back between keeping the business going and working on what excited him.

Tetsuya Mizuguchi

"With anyone who starts a company but eventually grows it into something where you have staff, management and investors, trying to balance keeping that company alive but also wanting to pursue your own creative products becomes very, very challenging," he says.

So he left. And he stayed away from full-time game work for a few years, teaching part-time at Keio University and dabbling in mobile games and musical projects. He says he didn’t have a clear vision for what he wanted to do, so he spent time recharging his batteries.

Then, he says, the rise of virtual reality brought him back.

After seeing some early virtual reality demos, Mizuguchi decided to form a new development studio, Enhance Games. This time around, he decided to structure the company differently than Q Entertainment, in an effort to not run into the same problems he found there. The main difference is that Mizuguchi is Enhance’s only employee, and he’s planning to put together teams of contractors and external studios as projects come along.

"It’s less stressful for me, to be honest, versus managing a company full of staff," he says.

Rez Infinite

Mizuguchi, who’s generally based in Tokyo, set up the company’s business paperwork in California because he says he sees more opportunity there for investments, particularly in virtual reality ideas, and because he’s seen contract negotiations move too slowly in Japan. In some cases, Japanese developers looking to set up crowdfunding campaigns have established Western offices to help run those and avoid legal restrictions, but Mizuguchi says he didn’t set up the company with that specifically in mind.

"In dealing with folks here out in the West, it just seems like I can get things off the ground a little bit quicker, and have that mentality of being on the same page," he says.

At the moment, Mizuguchi and Enhance have multiple projects in the works: Rez Infinite and "a few" mobile games that haven’t been announced. He says that there are two groups under the Enhance Games banner organizing it all. One handles the mobile side of the company, while the other works on virtual reality.

Rez suit

And he’s sticking to his plan of collaborating with contractors and external studios. On Rez Infinite, he’s working with independent studio Monstars to develop the game — a team founded by a programmer on the original Rez — and localization firm 8-4 to assist on business, marketing and public relations.

He also hired experimental art company Rhizomatiks to design a one-off "Synesthesia Suit" that lights up in conjunction with the game, which he wore on stage to announce Infinite. And he brought in two students from his class at Keio University, another professor there, a costume designer and one of the Rhizomatiks team members to develop a suit with 26 vibrating parts, also to help promote the game. The team says selling either of these suits would be impractical, due to the steep costs involved, but it’s looking into potentially developing some sort of vibrating peripheral for the game.

Beyond that, Mizuguchi says he has other virtual reality game ideas in his head, but he hasn’t started putting teams together to produce them yet. He wants to focus on one main project at a time and see that through first. And after Rez Infinite, he says, he’ll dig into what’s next.

"I can see the future now," he says. "Three years ago, four years ago, I couldn’t see a way forward. But now I’ve changed a lot. I can see [what I want to do]."

Disclosure: Polygon occasionally hires 8-4, mentioned in this story, for translation and interpretation work.

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