Interview

Binary Domain Designer Talks Present, Future, Inspiration and Culture

Best known for creating the Yakuza series, Toshihiro Nagoshi has a long history in the industry of working on memorable games that achieve a cult following. His latest game, Binary Domain, is in the midst of a worldwide release with much of the excitement over the game being built around the idea of an easily recognisable Eastern game taking the form of one of the most popular genres in the Western market, and doing so successfully. While you wait for our review and, for some, the game, you should take the time to look into the thoughts that he shared with PSM3 in a lengthy interview.

While the interview looks into the future, it also takes a look at the present and how the industry has moved on since the days of the PS2 and its ilk:

Well, there are so many titles these days a game needs to be really catchy to sell, rather than necessarily a deep experience. One way in which things were better is that we had more variety, even among the big hits. Violent games, military, horror, sports – the genres are quite delineated now. The same thing that happened to Hollywood is happening even faster to games. If there’s nothing unique about them, then what’s the point in playing? I want to help get the industry out of the pinch it’s getting itself into, and the only way is to be brave. You have to be bold.

“Well, most people buy things that other people like; they’re less interested these days in seeking out something that appeals only to them. They want to have fun with other gamers. You might think, ‘That one looks more interesting to me,’ but that’s not the one you buy; you get the same thing as everyone else. That’s unavoidable. There definitely are a lot of games that are fun to play but don’t sell, but that simply means that the people who made them and the people who play them are not in sync. It’s a very sad thing, but personally I strive to make games that don’t put me in that position!

The latter answer is absolutely true, explaining why games that are rated well are also usually atop the sales lists at the end of the year, as well as why the likes of Call of Duty are so immensely popular with their unparalleled brand recognition. In a way, this ties into the fact that games developed in Japan aren’t as popular with the masses as they once were, but Nagoshi insists that the key to turning this trend around doesn’t lie in emulating and aping what is not their forte. Indeed, his belief lies in entirely the opposite direction:

Binary Domain was made by a Japanese studio and is set in Japan – it’s very much a ‘Made in Japan’ game. So now we must make a game that makes people realise that ‘Made in Japan’ is a good thing. I could change my name to… I don’t know, James or whatever, and make a game. But that’s not me. I’m Nagoshi, and anyone can tell that I’m Japanese.

I think Japanese games should wear that ‘Made in Japan’ badge with pride and march boldly into the Western market. When Japanese actors find success overseas, it’s not because they speak perfect English; it’s because they project an image of themselves as a Japanese individual. That’s what we need to do as well.

The way that gamers and journalists are so ready to compare games to what has come before was also brought up:

That’s just inevitable. I often hear Vanquish – look, it’s a ‘Made in Japan’ sci-fi third-person shooter, so sure, I get it. But people used to compare Yakuza with Shenmue, and now they no longer say that; once you get your hands on it, you realise it’s different. So it’s up to us to really highlight how the game is different when we market it.

I don’t like my games being compared with others, but it’s just a fact of life. It’s not so bad to be compared with such big titles, but as a creator, I want to highlight the things about my game that are original and have people try it for themselves.”

I really like that idea of emphasising the unique aspects of, well, anything. It pushes back against the way that time and the improvements in technology allow a single formula to suffice for just about anything. Of course, it takes an inspired creator to lead the path towards new ideas, and the inspiration for, and themes of, Binary Domain were discussed:

Here’s the thing: we are Japanese people who live in Japan, and the world we can create most confidently is the world we live in for real. For example, if I were to think with my marketing hat on, obviously I’d conclude that a game set in the West will sell better in the West – or that’s what they tell me.

Yes, we could just as easily set the game in New York or London. But if we tried that it could only look fake. We could take a million trips to that city but no matter what, it would look fake. Even a team of top-class Japanese developers couldn’t make it look as real as a B-class studio based in that city. That’s not a limitation of technology; it’s a limitation of the heart.

I’d rather tell my stories in a setting I have complete faith in. And even if someone has never seen Tokyo, when they see the game they will nonetheless feel it’s real. They’ll understand that naturally. So forget the marketers; I wanted to make something real.”

The interviewer later delved deeper into the roots of the robots of the game:

“… I’ve seen all of those films [Blade Runner, I, Robot and The Terminator] and I like them all; I couldn’t say they’ve had no influence whatsoever. But if anything, I’ve been extremely conscious to ensure the game is different, precisely because they’ve had some influence on me. It’s up to us to make sure the game stands apart from anything else. Those films are more like antithetical reference points.

Of course, standing above all else are the themes and ideas behind the concept, and the questions pertaining to this led to a monologue on modern society and the paths that humanity is taking to the future:

“Well, it’s set in the very near future, just 70 years from now, so it’s like the world of our children’s children, our adult grandchildren. It’s very close. The society is very similar to our society today, and just like today’s society there are a lot of problems that have built up over time – some of which can be solved and some of which cannot.

There are environmental problems, for example, and developments in technology as mankind tries to make life more convenient. It’s not like a really unfathomable science-fiction; it’s the sort of sci-fi that’s quite tangible and close, which makes it easier to relate to. That’s really important to me.We’re at a stage in history where many things are about to change – in terms of the world’s economy as well – and we have a chance to make things better. But there’s also a possibility that in trying to fix things we could make them worse.

For example, when there’s a war nowadays, it’s not always clear whether it’s been a success or not. There are a lot of problems for which we can’t find a solution, and these will grow in number: global warming, the destruction of nature… these things will come back to bite us if we continue to ignore them as we do now. So this game is set after all of that has come to pass. I hope it will open people’s eyes to the problems we face today and make them think about how we can put things right.

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The questions asked, and answers received, in the interview are near and dear to the core concepts of OnlySP, so I found it a pleasure to read, and hope that you felt the same way about our excerpts. If you’re interested, the full interview also discusses Nagoshi’s thoughts on the future of gaming, the difficulties of implementing voice control in Binary Domain and why Yakuza has remained a Playstation exclusive franchise, regardless of the profits that could be found by going multiplatform and can be accessed through the link above.

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