After I got some time with the demo for Lollipop Chainsaw, Jeffrey Wilson and I got a chance to sit down and talk with the game’s designer, Suda 51. The polite and fashionable creator of No More Heroes and Killer 7 touched on Lollipop Chainsaw, his inspirations growing up, and his stance on the state of Japanese game development. Spoiler: he’s not too worried about it.
On his inspiration for Lollipop Chainsaw: “When I was making the plan of the game, there was an image I had of Juliet,” Suda said. “And I wanted to do zombies and emphasize movement. Those were things I had in my mind as I planned … I think there’s a lot of American culture that has affected me. American culture as I saw it as I grew up on TV and movies and things. It’s a combination of all those things.”
When I mentioned how it was so fun to see American culture and society filtered through a Japanese lens, he replied “It’s fun for me too! I think you may be interested in where I’m off.”
As to whether any specific shows or movies influenced Suda, he responded: “Charlie’s Angels. And there were two guys riding on motorcycles named Joe and Punch …”
Jeffrey Wilson chimed in: ”Was it CHiPS with Ponch and Jon?”
Suda: “Yes! And Knight Rider, Miami Vice… I was watching all that in Japan. And I saw lots of American movies growing up as a kid in elementary school. Including the horror movies. So that shows the very strong connection between your culture and Japan. Twin Peaks was a big thing. It was such a big thing in Japan, and I loved it and I was heavily influenced by it. And that still continues.”
The last American, or any, movie that he saw that impacted him: “James Gunn movies, not [because] we’re working together, but I think they’re charming.”
Did he see Drive? “I didn’t see that yet, but I want to see it. I heard it’s great.”
On James Gunn’s direction of Lollipop Chainsaw‘s cutscenes: “”Because we were in two different places, I left that up to him. There’s another director in Japan who is also known in the zombie world. He participated as well. So there was a collaboration on the Japan side as well as the American side, between the two directors.”
Suda, nor WB, would give up that particular Japanese director’s name. Apparently they’re going to announce it in Japan first. My guess is Ryuhei Kitamura, the director of the yakuza vs. zombies movie Versus. He also dabbled in video games in the past with cutscene direction for Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes. Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima and Suda teamed up before, too, so there’s that common connection.
More connections: Actor Michael Rooker is a voice in Lollipop Chainsaw. He worked with James Gunn, writer of the Dawn of the Dead remake, on Slither, and appeared on popular zombie TV series The Walking Dead, which came up during our discussion of zombies. They’re everywhere, and their popularity shows no signs of slowing down. Why are zombies still so popular?
“They look human, but the way their movements are are good for a game,” Suda answered. “The speed they come at you, they don’t come so fast so they’re easier to shoot … So you can maintain the distance between the player and the zombie. Because of their slow movement it makes it easier to shoot and slash, which is advantageous for us, the players. With war games, the action’s so much faster, you get shot so quick.”
Fast vs. slow zombies? “They’re very easy to incorporate into a game, too, the fast zombies. It’s about the learning curve for the player. If you can handle a slower zombie, you will be able to handle a faster zombie. Different types of zombies can co-exist!”
Towards the end of our talk, I asked Suda 51 if he could give his thoughts on Keiji Inafune’s recent bleak statements on the Japanese side of the video game industry. Apparently, he hadn’t heard what Inafune said at this year’s GDC, and his translator seemed a little miffed by the topic, but here is what he said on the state of Japanese game development:
“I think the Japanese market in itself has matured. As far as development goes, there are U.K. games … and Swedish games like Battlefield. We’re not talking just America and Japan, we’re talking about lots of different countries where games are developed. And these games are all being made for the world market, not just the home market. So Japan makes the platforms for these games and has a big domestic market. So people have expectations as to what the developers do as a result. We can make games for just the Japanese market, or like Lollipop which can be sold worldwide. But what’s interesting is that Lollipop is popular in Japan, too. So we don’t separate out whether something should be for the Japanese market or the worldwide market. I think it’s important to just kind of think the world as being flat. And that’s what I attempt to do.”
And what should players be excited for in Lollipop Chainsaw? “Juliet’s action and [voice actress Tara Strong's] performance. And also, how Nick is utilized in the attacks. Then you understand there’s a love story going on, and I want people playing the game to enjoy that part of it, too!”
Look forward to Lollipop Chainsaw when it comes on June 12th for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.