For hardcore gamers, Goichi ‘Suda 51’ Suda is a man who needs no introduction.
Head of the self-proclaimed ‘punk rock game studio’ Grasshopper Manufacturer, Suda is the brains behind cult classics like No More Heroes, Killer 7, Lollipop Chainsaw and Killer Is Dead. With his long-awaited threequel – No More Heroes 3 – hitting Switch last month, we got a rare opportunity to pick the brains of gaming’s most anarchic auteur.
Discussing everything from his work with James Gunn, his plans for reviving past IP, the Suda Deadpool game that almost was, to working with Kojima, technical hurdles on Switch and the ideas for his next three games – Suda was on top form.
Without further ado then, let’s cut to the chase and hear from Mr. Suda 51.
The Marvel influence is clear on No More Heroes 3. How did it feel then, to have Deadpool – Ryan Reynolds himself – like a VGC tweet mentioning you recently?
Actually, I had no idea he had liked one of my tweets, that’s awesome to find out! I’ve been a big fan of the Deadpool movies, of course, as well as Ryan Reynolds’ other films as well, so it’s really cool to hear that.
I believe I may have mentioned this in interviews before, but here’s something a lot of people probably don’t know… over a decade ago, I was actually approached by Activision at one point to make a Deadpool game… It was sometime after the first No More Heroes came out.
Obviously, that plan never came to fruition, and it fizzled out in the initial planning stages but I had some really cool ideas for it at the time. The fact that Ryan Reynolds himself Liked one of my Tweets makes me feel like I’ve taken about a hundred steps forward since then!
No More Heroes 3 - The Return Trailer
As for the Marvel influence, there is definitely some of that in the game. When first coming up with ideas for the game, I wanted to have Travis go up against the sort of big bad he’s never faced before, like a real Thanos-level badass – the kind that would make Travis be like “OK, what the hell am I gonna do now…?”
So instead of doing what we did with the previous games, which was have Travis face off against all these different human assassins from Earth, I decided to have him go up against enemies from all over the galaxy this time. Led by FU, who is basically the toughest opponent Travis has ever faced, he has to take on all these alien assassins with various skills and stuff in order to save not only Santa Destroy, but the entire world.
Your Marvel connection runs deeper. You famously worked on 2012’s Lollipop Chainsaw with Guardian’s of The Galaxy writer/director James Gunn. How did that come about?
When I first started working on the game, I was working with Kadokawa Games as the Japanese publisher and Warner Bros. as the overseas publisher. I had been working on the story for the game, and was told that the people at Warner Bros. were going to use their connections to get an actual Hollywood writer brought onto the team…I think it was just after James Gunn had won a few awards for his movie Super, and he was a zombie film professional at that point and clearly knew what he was doing and understood what we were going for, so I was pretty excited to work with him!
What was it like working with James Gunn? And what do you feel he brought to Lollipop Chainsaw?
When I first met him, I was worried about being star-struck, dealing with this big Hollywood guy. But when we first met – remotely, via video chat – I was pleasantly surprised that he turned out to actually be just a really cool dude, the kind of guy who you can tell just really loves making movies and is really passionate about his work, and with whom you can just sort of chitchat and geek out over different movies and games and stuff together. He was extremely easy to work with, and he brought all sorts of great ideas to the story and the game. I loved working with him and would love to work with him again at some point.
Obviously he’s kind of a superstar now so he’s super busy nowadays – he’s basically got Marvel and DC playing tug-of-war with him, after all – so we don’t talk like every day or anything like that, but we talk over Twitter DM once in a while, and sometimes he’ll give me a shout-out in a tweet or something like that. One thing that I’ve always really appreciated is the fact that he always gets back to me right away. Each time I’ve messaged him for something, he always makes sure to get back to me within a few hours or so, no matter the subject. He’s never “too big” to reach out.
You know, one thing I’ve noticed is that a lot of the people I’ve worked with end up getting really big and famous afterwards. Apart from James Gunn, there have been several people who have worked with Grasshopper who’ve moved on, and then all of a sudden one day you notice that these dudes have gone on to be really big names in the industry, you know? It’s great to see people with whom I’ve worked closely in the past go on to great things like that.
The general consensus was that No More Heroes 3 is a bold sequel, but that it also has its fair share of technical issues. Was it a struggle to achieve your full vision for the game on Switch hardware?
There were definitely a lot of bugs to be worked out, and we spent a lot of time handling those and getting the game into proper shape. After release as well there were still a good number of bugs left in the game, and we’ve had players reporting them to us since launch, and we’ve released a few patches to fix up most of the issues.
It was certainly difficult to realize my full vision of the game, but not so much due to technical issues; it was mainly because knowing that this was going to be the last game in the series, I knew that we had to come up with something really special. In a way, it’s kind of like we had to plan for two games: the No More Heroes that I personally and the team at Grasshopper wanted to make, and the No More Heroes that the fans wanted to play.
And not only that, but we had to make sure that this game actually went above and beyond what fans were expecting and what they were looking forward to…. as well as stuff that nobody would’ve seen coming at all. Keeping that balance was pretty difficult, but in the end I feel that it worked out well, and fortunately we’ve had a lot of people tell us how much they loved what we came up with, so I feel we accomplished our mission.
You have a large variety of different game franchises under your belt at this point in your career, are there any of your previous games that you’d like to revisit?
First of all, to provide a bit of explanation, the main issue with revisiting some of our previous games lies in IP rights. For example, with No More Heroes, the rights are mostly owned by Marvelous, whereas Grasshopper only owns a part of the rights, which was what allowed us to basically do what we wanted with the past two games in the series. But this also means that we wouldn’t be able to just freely decide to do another instalment in the franchise without permission.
On the other hand, there are several IPs which we do own the rights to, and so we’re free to do whatever we like with those. The IPs for which we hold the rights would be the Silver Case series, Flower, Sun, and Rain, Killer is Dead, and Shadows of the Damned.
While I don’t have any current plans or anything in the works, if I were to go back and revisit some of our past titles, it would most likely be one of these. If I were to do something with one of our past titles, I don’t know if it would be an actual sequel, or something more akin to a remake or remaster, but one thing I’d be interested in is revisiting Killer is Dead.
You know how first another director did Suicide Squad, and then James Gunn did the reboot, THE Suicide Squad? I might like to do something like that, like take Killer is Dead and remake it into The Killer is Dead or something, because the game that got released ended up being quite different from what I had originally set out to make, and revisiting that and remaking it into what it was originally meant to be could be really interesting.
“It was certainly difficult to realize my full vision of the game, but not so much due to technical issues; it was mainly because knowing that this was going to be the last game in the series”
Revisiting past releases aside, what are your next steps in terms of new games? You have stated before that you would like to do another No More Heroes in ten years’ time, but in the immediate future, are there any games you are currently working on? And is there anything that you’d love to work on?
We’ve got a general plan in place for the next ten years. At this point, we’re planning on doing three titles over the next decade: three new IPs. We’ve actually already begun the preproduction stuff on the first title, but I can’t say anything about it just yet.
As for games I’d love to work on… You know, I’ve noticed something over the years: it seems like the more I talk about the games I want to make, the more impossible it becomes to actually make them. Like I’ve been saying for about 20 years now, I really want to make a Gundam game. But nope, I have yet to make a Gundam game!
Nobody calls up with offers or proposals, nothing. It’s like there’s some kind of jinx on me or something. So, I’ve decided to try to keep quiet about possible games that I’d like to make, just to be safe. But you know – I’ve gone and talked about Deadpool. I guess now it might not happen after all…
As well as large-scale releases, you have long been known for creating smaller scale games like Liberation Maiden and Travis Strikes again. You mentioned Grasshopper will be creating 3 new IP in the next decade – will these be AAA?
While I wouldn’t say the games we plan to make are going to be full-on AAA titles, they aren’t exactly going to be really small-scale or anything like Liberation Maiden, either; I’d say they’re probably going to be around “AA”-scale games. As in, the games themselves will be around AA-level scale, and the core team making them will be a relatively compact team.
One reason I’ve decided to scale things down a bit and work with small- to mid-size, closer teams is to be able to not only work directly on the game more, but also to help foster and train the younger, newer team members as well. Recently, especially at larger studios, I feel like younger developers don’t get nearly as much actual hands-on training in higher-level stuff as they did back in the day.
For example, when I directed my first game, I was only 24, back when the game industry was still young and had that zeitgeist vibe – and I already had several titles under my belt by then. These days, it’s pretty rare for a developer to be allowed to direct anything before they’re like in their 30s or so, if that.
“One reason I’ve decided to scale things down a bit and work with small- to mid-size, closer teams is to be able to not only work directly on the game more, but also to help foster and train the younger, newer team members”
I want to give my younger, less experienced staff members the chance to move up and get more experience doing the kind of work they ultimately want to do, and I want to be able to be there with them to help guide them along the way. So by working with smaller-scale, more closely knit teams like this, I can more easily and more confidently hand over the reins to the younger generation of creators later on down the road.
Also, with regard to the three new IPs I mentioned, we may actually go a slightly different route. What I mean is, we may actually decide to do like one new, original IP – the one we’re working on now – and then make a game version of an existing IP for our second game, and then go back and do another new one for the third one.
There are a few games from back in the day that I’d like to get my hands on and try to do a reboot or a remake of some kind, or we may get approached by the right company with the right IP and decide to go with that… We’ll see how things work out.
Many gamers compare you to Kojima, with a lot of your games sharing similar DNA. To me, you’re almost his punk rock young brother. Do you two know each other well, and is there any chance of you two collaborating on a game?
We do know each other, and he’s been around for a bit longer than I have and is sort of an upperclassman as well as a kind of legend and a celebrity, so he’s not really the kind of dude I can just hit up whenever, you know?
We have actually collaborated before, though – except it wasn’t on a game, but a serialized radio drama years ago, called Sdatcher. We’re both focused on our own games at this point, so Sdatcher was probably the end of our collaboration.
You’ve had a long and fruitful relationship with Nintendo: from Killer 7, to Liberation Maiden and NMH. Is there any chance that you two will collaborate on any new IP in the future?
Again, I don’t have any concrete plans at the moment, but of course I’m always open to a collaboration with Nintendo. It would be really cool to be able to work on a reboot or remake of some of the older Nintendo IPs that have been around for awhile, especially some of the ones that have been dormant for a long time. If I’m going to do something to really surprise all the gamers out there, then I’d like to do it together with Nintendo.
You’ve seen many console generations and technical advances come and go. What gaming and tech innovations excite you the most at the moment?
One thing that I’ve been really interested in is the Playdate. I think that looks really cool and I’m really interested to see how the little handle controller thing on it works out. I’ve been really interested lately in the development of games that really take advantage of simplicity.
All the major consoles these days have these big controllers with lots of buttons, but I do kinda miss the days when things were so much more simple and compact, and I’ve been paying a lot of attention to games that keep things really simple with just like a four-direction pad and two buttons, like back in the day.
One of my own goals is to pursue the utmost simplicity in controls, and include that into my game design. Assigning each different action to a different button necessitates more buttons, right? VR in particular tends to have the fewest buttons, meaning you have to use your brain and get inventive to find ways to tweak gameplay to make it smooth and pleasant, so there are a lot of really good, innovative control designs in VR titles.
But anyway, at the moment, I’m looking forward to getting involved with Playdate.