“Games That Aren’t Possible In This World” – Sakurai’s Famitsu Column, Vol. 119

Games that aren't possible in this world

Hey guys, Sutamen here. A few weeks ago, Bandai Namco filed a trademark for “Amazing Katamari Damacy” in Japan. I wonder what it’s going to be? For now, here’s a translated Famitsu column from 2005 where Sakurai talks about We Love Katamari, as well as making fried rice. If you’ve never played Katamari Damacy, it’s pure joy so check it out. Thanks to Crane043 for helping with editing. Enjoy!

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Games That Aren’t Possible In This World

Originally published in Famitsu Vol. 119, 16 September 2005


I played We Love Katamari for a while, and when I was done I noticed I was getting hungry. While I cooked up some fried rice, my mind wandered back to the game I had just been playing. “If it had been me on this project, I might’ve given up on it before work even began…” That thought made me feel weak and hopeless as a designer. Maybe I need to eat something and re-energize?

Fried rice: Flavored with oyster sauce, mirin, salt, and black pepper. Fried using sesame oil. Thrown together on the spot, but tasty nonetheless.

I’m not sure what the best way to put together Katamari Damacy is. I don’t mean that it’s tough to squeeze out what makes the game fun, or that the systems and “flavors” are complicated.

Frankly speaking, if this was my project I might have thought, “This probably wouldn’t work on the Playstation 2,” and quickly turned down the idea. Even supposing I had come up with the plan, I don’t think it’s likely that the programmers could have pulled it off. In this way, I think the game went way above what was technically feasible at the time.

Katamari Damacy: First released in 2004. Using the dual analog sticks, roll the Katamari like a snowball, picking up objects that stick to it along the way. [Players must] create even bigger Katamaris to progress in the game.

The main character of Katamari Damacy is “The Prince.” He pushes Katamaris around, which start rolling at around 15 cm in diameter. There are some exceptions, but in most instances he begins by rolling up objects that are about the size of a crayon. From there he rolls up fallen writing utensils, watches and phones, chairs and beds, people and cars, trees and houses, warehouses and buildings, tankers and famous landmarks, islands and floating clouds… and that’s how it steadily escalates. It’s essentially nonstop.

Starting with miniscule objects inside a room, you have 15 minutes to roll around and pick things up. You pile up more and more, and by the end you’re rolling up entire continents. Wow, it’s amazingly dynamic!

I’ve just been talking about the tasty aspects of the game, but there’s no way you could start with pencil-sized items and go on to accumulate every single object without failure, right? I have a feeling that the moments when “The King” starts talking to you are cleverly disguised opportunities for the game to load in larger blocks of data. Even so, a countless number of objects appear onscreen, and when these objects stick to the Katamari, their unevenness stays intact and they affect how the Katamari rolls. Just this is considerably impressive.

I also think the designers’ efforts are equally considerable. That is, from the planning stage they were able to envision how they’d create objects with appropriately rough polygon counts even as the levels progress and everything gets bigger. The actual number of items in this game is in the thousands! Furthermore, every object has a comment attached!! It must have been fun to make them.

“What if we roll up houses and stuff like a snowball, plain and simple!?”

“Sounds great! Wahahahahaha!!”

That probably sums up the game at first glance, but considering the later hardships, it’s quite possible I would have swiftly abandoned the project and thought, “There’s no way we can make a game like that.” I would be wrong for thinking so, because this game they were able to create, Katamari Damacy, is a splendidly fun accomplishment.

For the games I make, it has been said that they have more volume compared to others. That’s not because I have an abundance of development time to use, but because I try to stress the importance of steadily finishing up work. I prefer things that I can clearly visualize over things like experimentation and trial and error so that depending on the circumstances, even if cuts have to be made, the project can proceed without fail. But, by refusing things you aren’t sure are possible or not, you could be shutting the door on potential opportunities. “I should reflect on that some more…” is what I thought as I finished eating my fried rice and cleaned my plate.
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Cleaning up with Katamaris as well is a really nice feeling… Ok, that’s the last joke. The end.


Looking Back on “Games That Aren’t Possible In This World”

Sakurai: This one’s the fried rice story.

Interviewer: Mr. Sakurai, your fried rice actually sounds pretty good…

Sakurai: It has an unassuming taste. I just put a little sesame oil into the pan, spread it around… Now I’m hungry (laughs).

Interviewer: Let’s order some food later. Ok, that’s enough about the fried rice (laughs).

Sakurai: The director of Katamari Damacy, Mr. Keita Takahashi, is a game designer who has said, “I dislike games.” He’s got a markedly different sense of values than typical game designers, which is wonderful! And, Katamari Damacy isn’t amazing from just a design perspective, but from an engineering one as well. I remember thinking, “You can do that!?” and it fired me up inside (laughs).

Interviewer: Yeah, he’s got the power to take a formless idea and bring it to life on the screen.

Sakurai: Nintendo President Iwata always says, “Programmers never say no.” The moment they say no, the ideas of the planners and the director die on the spot, so the programmers have to find a way to make it happen.

Interviewer: That’s right!

Sakurai: Since of course it’s easy to say, “We can’t do that.” But on the other hand, the designer can’t say, “Actually, redo it this way,” since that would be a waste of the programmer’s work.

Interviewer: It’s a matter of give-and-take, huh?

Sakurai: Adjustments have to be made in situations where visions don’t match up. That’s natural. But saying, “We’ve been making A because I thought it was good, but actually B is better” and changing course like that will create chaos in the office.

Interviewer: Editors and writers go through the same thing. An editor will tell me, “Prepare the manuscript like this,” but when I hand it in they’ll say, “Ah, it was better the other way after all, so rewrite it.” That happens often (laughs).

Sakurai: What’s most important is for the team to get along well. That helps to protect against situations where someone says, “This is what we have to do.”


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