Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Free Guy: Interview with Yu Suzuki, Keiichiro Toyama & Kazunobu Sato by IGN Japan (2021) | Video

In 2021, IGN Japan invited three legendary Japanese game creators (Yu Suzuki, creator of Shenmue and numerous hit arcade games; Keiichiro Toyamacreator of the Silent Hill, Siren and Gravity Rush franchises and Kazunobu Sato, producer of The Last Guardian) to a private viewing of the newly-released film Free Guy.

While the interview is based around the movie, several themes that relate to game creation are explored and discussed.

Free City Interview Video

We have added translated subtitles in English to the interview video below. A written transcript also follows the video.

Interview Transcription

IGN Japan: Hi everyone, this is Daniel from IGN Japan. Today we'll be asking three game creators for their first impressions and thoughts on watching the movie Free Guy, which was released on 13th August (2021). This video is a promotional tie-up with the movie.

Let's start by introducing our guests. Firstly: Yu Suzuki. Thank you for being here.

Suzuki: Thank you.

IGN Japan: Would you like to introduce yourself?

Suzuki: I'm Yu Suzuki from YS Net. It's good to be here.

Yu Suzuki

IGN Japan: Next we have Keiichiro Toyama.

Toyama: I'm Keiichiro Toyama of Bokeh Games Studio, which I founded last year. Nice to meet you.

Keiichiro Toyama

IGN Japan: And we also welcome Kazunobu Sato.

Sato: Hello, I'm Kazunobu Sato, also of Bokeh Games Studio. My role is producer.

Kazunobu Sato

IGN Japan: Shortly, I'll be asking you all for your impressions of the movie, but first I'll give a rundown of what it's about.

The actor who captivated the world with his anti-heroic, freewheeling style and cool, extreme action in the Deadpool series, Ryan Reynolds, takes on a new role as an incredibly ordinary character set in the world of games where anything can happen.

Guy repeats his mundane, boring everyday life as an NPC in Free City, an online game where there are no rules and anything goes.

One day, he decides to reinvent himself by doing his own thing, completely ignoring the programming and scenarios inside the game.

Will Guy, as a too-good-to-be-true hero, be able to save the world in the midst of the biggest crisis in the game's history?

Now I'd like to show the trailer. Take it away!

So I'd like to ask for everyone's impressions after having just watched the movie.

Let's start with Mr. Suzuki.

Taking care to avoid spoilers, please tell us your thoughts about the work as a film, as well as its game-like nature, how it portrayed both the NPCs and the player character, and so on.

Suzuki: It's a film where an NPC is the protagonist, which I thought was an interesting concept. In a game I created a while back called Shenmue (One), I put in a lot of NPCs and simulated their daily lives. So I found it interesting because it had a lot in common with my game.

IGN Japan: Thank you. Next, Mr. Toyama. Again, being careful with spoilers!

Toyama: It showed not just the world within the game, but also included scenes such as the developing the game and as such I found it to be surprisingly well done. How can I put it... It seems like they really did their homework into what absolutely impossible things might be plausible inside a game. I thought it was really enjoyable from that perspective also.

IGN Japan: It feels like it was made with a good understanding of the world of gaming, doesn't it.

Toyama: Yes, that's something I felt strongly.

IGN Japan: I see. Mr. Sato, your thoughts?

Sato: Well, firstly, I really enjoyed it as a piece of entertainment. And, since I'm really into games and play them a lot, there were many times while watching when I thought "Oh, that's a scene from this game" or "that's an homage to such-and-such a game".

It was a lot of fun looking out for them.

IGN Japan: Thank you.

Since we've got you all here together, I'd like to hear from each of you in more detail.

Starting with Mr. Suzuki first: when talking about NPCs that have their own sense of purpose, Shenmue is the first game I think of. And this movie deals with a very similar kind of concept. In the case of Shenmue, although it has a large number of NPCs, each has something they are trying to achieve. In the movie, all the people in Guy's world of Free City, despite being NPCs, they each have their own thing to do. In Guy's case, he works at the bank, for example.

How does that concept compare with your development on Shenmue?

Suzuki: The concept of the NPCs [here] is identical to Shenmue. Each of them has their own daily life, and each lives out their life, with schedules and goals. Although in terms of the world that is portrayed, in Shenmue's case, I didn't go as far as using AI in moving each of the characters around.

When I was making Shenmue, I thought that in the future, once the processing power of CPUs and computers had improved enough, I would certainly use AI. After building up experience myself, I wanted to make something like in Free Guy, where characters would react to each other. So I can very much relate.

IGN Japan: Yes, certainly.

In the movie, how "NPC-like" did you find Guy, the protagonist, and his NPC friends to be?

Suzuki: The movie mixes together game-like scenes that can be recognized as in-game with those that are live action, and it became difficult to distinguish between the two. And I think that's how things may go in the future. The quality will continue to improve rapidly, making it increasingly harder to tell the difference between reality and CG. And that goes for games, too.

I felt that this is one possible direction that future games may go in.

IGN Japan: Next, I have some questions for Mr. Toyama.

Firstly... oh, actually these are for both Mr. Toyama and Mr. Sato together.

With the development of games you've been involved to date, such as Silent Hill, Siren and Gravity Daze [Gravity Rush], I believe inspiration came from both movies and anime. Why did you feel that kind of influence from movies and try to reproduce it in your games?

Toyama: Well, each of those works had something about it... how can I put it... for example one might have not particularly featured as a game before but I really liked it, or perhaps because of its memorable atmosphere. So I think putting those kinds of elements in... would result in a game I'd want to play myself, or one that I was sure people would want to play. I think those are the kinds of things behind the original motivation.

IGN Japan: There are certain forms of expression particular to games, just as there are to movies, aren't there. For a game, they're instantly recognized by gamers; the same goes for a movie and movie lovers. There's a kind of grammar. Free Guy mixes these together quite a bit.

Mr. Sato, what did you think about this mix?

Sato: When I was watching, the first thing that made me burst out laughing was a certain scene in which Guy leaps into the air. He sees something in front of him and tries to grab onto it but isn't successful. From a gaming perspective, that's all you would need to do, so it's quite amusing. [laughs] I was personally very interested to see how much of that mix would make it through to the audience.

IGN Japan: Mr. Toyama, what are your thoughts on that mix?

Toyama: Visually, the latest games are becoming very close to live-action film. In that sense, it incorporated the game-like effects and other spectacular scenes very naturally. I thought that the inclusion of scenes from time to time where the camera work was consciously game-like, can suddenly make it look like a game. Parts like that set movies aside from regular games. It made me realize that it can be enjoyable watching from a third-person perspective.

IGN Japan: With a game, the main character moves according to the player's will, and the character exists within the game's world and story. The fact that the player is moving the main character within the world is conveniently ignored. Is it quite a challenge to make it look as if the main character is behaving of their own volition? Is it hard to make it look natural?

Toyama: It can be a challenge, especially nowadays when even a slight misalignment in eye contact can feel unnatural. In a game you might want to have someone's gaze slightly follow another when passing by one another, or things like that. I think it's very difficult to create a character that really feels they there are right there.

IGN Japan: I see. Now... I'd like to ask you all some questions for casual discussion. Please feel free to speak up at any point.

Inside a game, the protagonist exists there as a person. Do you think the movie does a good job at expressing the relationship between the character within the game and the player? How does it express this relationship between the two?

Suzuki: It's not quite about their relationship but... aspects like NPCs having feelings is something I think will be entirely possible as AI advances. For example, there are lots of movies where robots have feelings. And once emotions can be simulated, and things not controlled by the player become able to simulate emotional logic, then human-like behaviors such as love, jealousy and so on will be learned and expressed.

So it's not so much a case of to what extent it is expressed in this movie, but rather that it will certainly happen in the future. I have a feeling that it will emerge.

IGN Japan: I personally enjoy open-world games, and one thing that comes to mind when I play is that the NPCs around me are trying to lead their ordinary lives, but as the main character I get in their way a lot. With a game like Free City, the player causes all sorts of trouble. On watching this movie, when Guy and other characters are making a nuisance of themselves it causes other characters to scatter and things get in a shambles. It made me realize just how much trouble the players cause inside the game's world.

Sato: Well, that's okay because they're the player, and having fun.

But I thought what Mr. Suzuki was saying just before was really interesting. In the case where an NPC is given emotions, then I would be very curious about how the player will act towards them. For example, if it were me I think I'd tend to not want to casually treat them badly or shoot them. I think the style of playing itself might evolve.

IGN Japan: Mr. Toyama, how about you?

Toyama: Let's see... I was just thinking it over.

Gravity Daze [Gravity Rush] was a game that had a lot of NPCs, so...

IGN Japan: You cause a fair bit of mayhem in Gravity Daze, don't you. 

Sato: That's true. [laughs] Over and over!

Toyama: Yes... dropping things into the abyss and so on. But... it's not as gruesome as it sounds. It partly transcends reality, so it turns a bit humorous. Because there's no way it could really happen. That's the way we have portrayed it,

But if they [the characters] had feelings, I'm sure they'd be extremely mad at their creators! [laughs]

Gravity Daze [Gravity Rush] 2

IGN Japan: In the movie there exists a large game development company called Soonami. The company's president, Antwan, is played by Taika Waititi, and he is very short-tempered. A bit of a nasty president. Then there are Keys and Millie, two Indy developers. 

I'd like to ask you about how they are each portrayed, including the depiction of the major development studio. Firstly, if a game developer just like that exists, we're talking a very shady place! While watching, were there any moments that rang a bell with you - Mr. Sato?

Sato: I've never seen one as extreme as that before. [laughs] But any developer can relate to some aspects of the developers' mindsets, I thought. Something I thought while watching is, I imagined what the relationship used to be like between the company president and those two developers previously, when they used to be friends.

Toyama: I'm also in the position of having to run my own company. Everyone says "money matters!" And to keep making good products, I agree that money matters. But if somewhere along the way one's thinking were to change gradually from placing importance on taking care of everyone... never with the intention to just line one's pockets from the start, but... it might change gradually without realizing it.

So I can sort of understand the various standpoints with a kind of... sympathy, I suppose. Like, hey, be careful! [laughs]

Sato: He's such a quirky character. And he seems to gradually grow worse. It makes you wonder what on earth's going on with him!

Antwan, CEO of Soonami, played by Taika Waititi

Toyama: That's... well, Japan's hasn't reached this point yet, but overseas if your budget or $100m isn't enough then to delay the release by a month just isn't...

Sato: This is within the context of Antwan with his company growing from a small one to that huge studio, right?

Toyama: He's like, if the only other option is bankruptcy, then better to fib [that it's ready] and just release it. "Look, you've all got to eat, right?"

I guess he must have been through a lot! [laughs]

Sato: There aren't many people who would sympathize with him about that! [laughs]

IGN Japan: Taika Waititi, who plays the character of Antwan, is a director as well as an movie actor and is very creative. Being a director, he thinks as a creator. I wonder if he based his portrayal of the boss of the game company along that line. In other words, what becomes of a creator who has gone astray. I felt he might have played him that way by choice.

He's pretty funny, isn't he.

Sato: Yes, I thought he was an amusing character.

Toyama: He's exaggerated, of course, but... I wouldn't be surprised if someone like him exists. [laughs] He is that kind of character.

IGN Japan: Without going into detail to avoid spoiler territory, there were various easter eggs and references that a gamer or movie fan would recognize.

So, without getting too specific, were there any parts like that which made you laugh?

Sato: Straight off the bat, one would be Fortnite, right? [laughs]

IGN Japan: The movie itself being about an online game is Fortnite-like, and there are also direct references to Fortnite, aren't there. It's fun. I think there are a lot of Fortnite players around.

Toyama: There are some machines that just pass by in the background. Like a two-legged kind of tank... well not that exactly, but... When something with a very game-like feeling like that goes by, it makes you think "I want to play this game!"

IGN Japan: Yes, right. And then... there's the Portal gun.

Toyama: Oh yes, the Portal gun.

Sato: It's hard to know how much we can talk about! [laughs] That's right, there was a Portal gun and a Gravity gun. But yeah, seeing them used is...

IGN Japan: It's a surreal tool even within the game, but it's fun to see it recreated in a movie.

Sato: Oh, surreal? For me, it's something I'd love to buy. I was really happy to see it.

Toyama: I thought they'd make more use it, but it was probably costly.

Sato: Oh, that must be it! [laughs]

From the game Portal: the Portal Gun

IGN Japan: It's littered with such references, but I think it strikes a good balance without overdoing it.

Sato: That's true, they pop up when you've forgotten about them. It's well-balanced.

IGN Japan: In the movie, there's a game called Free City. It's an online open-world game in which players join together to carry out missions. It's arguably a common type of game, but is this movie's Free City a game that you wish you could play?

Mr. Suzuki?

Suzuki: Hm, not so much wanting to play it, but... it's a world in which many elements from various games have been incorporated into a city that has a good balance between the high quality of a movie and a game-like atmosphere.

Also, being an open world, it is very versatile. If you want to fight, you can. If you just want to observe, you can. So games going forward shouldn't all turn into ones where you just observe. People who prefer watching can enjoy games of that genre.

This kind of versatility and potential of direction is something I thought the movie demonstrates well.

"Is Free City a game that you wish you could play?"

IGN Japan: Yes, it certainly looks to be a game with a high level of freedom. Mr. Toyama, what do you think?

Toyama: For a game that's like Free City - and there may well be an actual game that served as its model - well, being a game having that level of visual quality, I'd definitely like to try playing it. What sets it apart from existing games are things like the sense of daily life of the NPCs. They're really intriguing. It would be fun to try acting a bit like a stalker.

IGN Japan: How about for you, Mr. Sato?

Sato: Firstly, I think there's probably a good match for a game that served as Free City's base, among the many games I've played in the past.

As to whether it made me want to play it all over again, well... I think it would depend on the circumstances.

IGN Japan: When I play open-world games, I tend to explore and talk with other characters and spend many hours without progressing the story [laughs], doing things like hunting and so on. Personally I quite like that style, so I felt like I wanted to explore in Free City.

Recently, there are live streams by people who enjoy gaming as well as those by people who aren't big fans. That kind of live commentary has become quite prevalent now. It's become popular as a form of entertainment. The movie features several real-life streamers, such as Ninja and ex-IGN member Terri Schwartz, who show off gameplay to their viewers, which is one of the movie's themes.

When developing a game, as well as it being played directly, to what extent do you think about the possibility of it being streamed? Mr. Suzuki?

Suzuki: It didn't used to be the case, but now it's something that I consider. 

IGN Japan: What kind of effect does that have on your games?

Suzuki: For example, a scene I made with a specific intention might get commentary of "This wasn't what Yu Suzuki intended when he made it!" And I'm watching like, "Oh, is that right!" [laughs]

It's entertainment, so I think it's good to have a lot of unfettered interpretations. The more perspectives, opinions and impressions there are, regardless of what they actually say, the more discussion there will be, and the more publicity there will be.

As creators, we want our games to be played by, and to catch the interest of, as many people as possible. So I want to encourage it to continue to expand.

IGN Japan: Mr. Sato, as a producer, what sort of consideration do you place on the balance between the game for being played vs the game for being watched?

Sato: For me, for the past few years, I consider games with the assumption that they will be watched. If anything, the gameplay has to be such that it makes people want to try it after seeing it.

IGN Japan: This movie is an action movie at the same time as including gaming elements, touching scenes and humor. How did you find it as a movie, Mr. Suzuki?

Suzuki: It's non-stop, emotional and anything goes... it just keeps coming at you. Content-wise, it includes a lot of things that will probably be achievable in games in the future. I found that to be quite an interesting aspect.

IGN Japan: Mr. Toyama, were there any parts that moved you, or made you laugh?

Toyama: Even if we put aside its unusual setting of a game world, it has a classic cinematic feel with themes such as romance, heroes fighting for freedom and so on. I thought aspects like those made for a very good film.

IGN Japan: Mr. Sato, what did you think about parts that moved you or made you laugh, as a piece of action entertainment?

Sato: I said this earlier as well, but I found it really enjoyable. To add onto that, at first as I watched I wondered how people not familiar with games would find it. But there wasn't any need to worry about that, and I genuinely enjoyed the immersive experience.

IGN Japan: Thank you.

In today's discussion we heard from you all with your thoughts and valuable comments about Free Guy.

Unfortunately our time is up, so I'd like to wrap up here.

Free Guy was released on the 13th of August [2021]. I really hope you'll see it! It's a really fun movie that's full of action and comedy, and has plenty of elements from both games and movies.

Thank you very much Mr. Suzuki, Mr. Toyama and Mr. Sato.

And thanks to our viewers for watching until the end. Until next time, see you in Free City!

-- End of translated transcript --

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