Interview: Suda 51 talks Travis Strikes Again, retro game development and The Smiths

Goichi Suda is one of my favourite game designers.

Known better as Suda 51 (51 is ‘go-ichi’ in Japanese), he’s considered by many to be the Quentin Tarantino of video games: notorious for making stylised and offbeat games with a mature subject matter, a dark sense of humour and more references than an over-enthusiastic CV.

Although in recent years he’s given us the likes of Lollipop Chainsaw and Killer Is Dead, Nintendo gamers know Suda better for two of his older offerings: Killer7 on the GameCube, and the No More Heroes games on Wii.

It’s the latter that sees yer man Scullion and yer man 51 making contact once again. I first interviewed Suda more than a decade ago, as part of an Official Nintendo Magazine preview of the first No More Heroes. When its sequel came out in 2010, I caught up with him again for a second interview.

Presenting Suda with his own Celtic shirt back in 2008

Full disclosure: there was a time when Suda and I crossed paths fairly regularly. I once gave him a Celtic shirt to thank him for the games he’d made. He responded a year later by sending a Japan football shirt to the office.

When he came to London on an impromptu trip to visit Criterion Games – Burnout Paradise is one of his favourite titles – I was asked if I wanted to join his group for dinner, and ended up taking him to Boots on Piccadilly Circus at midnight to try and help him buy sleeping pills to help with his jetlag.

That was nearly a decade ago, though. Suda moved on to create games for the Xbox 360 and PS3, and because I was to remain at Nintendo publications for a few years longer our paths didn’t cross again.

Now, eight years after we last sat down to chat, yer man Scullion is once again talking to Suda 51, and once again it’s about No More Heroes.

Actually, to be specific, it’s about Travis Strikes Again, a No More Heroes spin-off exclusively designed for the Switch. With a budget and scale more suited to an indie title, it’s an interesting smaller adventure in which the returning hero Travis Touchdown finds himself inside a sentient retro games console called the Death Drive Mark II and has to fight his way through a number of games.

The game’s out on 18 January and naturally, given its retro theme, I’m going to be reviewing it on this very site. Until then, however, it’s time to finally bring the ‘Scullion 51’ interview trilogy to an end, after a decade.

YER MAN SCULLION: It’s been more than eight years since we last spoke, when No More Heroes 2 was released on Wii. You’ve worked on so many games since then, but I’m sure over the years people have kept asking you about Travis Touchdown.

Was your decision to make a new No More Heroes game based on fan demand, or was it down to your personal love for the character?

YER MAN SUDA: It’s about 50/50. One big point was when I first saw the Switch: I instantly felt like I wanted to make a new instalment in the series on that hardware.

The other 50% was the drive I got from the support of the fans, who’ve been calling out for years for a new No More Heroes game.

Since it’s been so long, it’s possible that there are some Switch owners who are interested in Travis Strikes Again but didn’t play the previous No More Heroes games.

Has it been difficult to make a game that will be easy to get into for people who don’t know anything about the last two, but still offers something for long-time fans?

To make sure the younger gamers of this new generation could easily get into the game, the decision to avoid giving it an actual number [instead of calling it No More Heroes 3] was one big point… to make it feel like a brand new adventure that’s not tied immediately into the last game.

I feel like that makes it easier for people to just jump in without having to know, like, everything that happened. Also, making an indie-sized game – something that’s small and self-contained – contributes to that, I think.

As for the long-time fans, you know, this is still an action game and it’s gone through such detailed tuning that I feel very confident it’s now at a level that long-time fans will be satisfied by what they get from it.

Travis Strikes Again takes its inspiration from retro gaming. With game development getting more complex every year and budgets rising all the time, do you miss the days when things were much simpler, or do you prefer the way things are now?

It’s been 25 years since I first started making games and it’s kind of surprising, thinking back now, how few people were on the teams that made the games at the time.

I can remember making games as far back as the Super Famicom. When Grasshopper started out there were only around 10 people in total, and for the past several years I’ve been kind of wanting to return to that.

That’s in large part due to meeting with today’s indie game creators, who are making these great games with very small teams: games that are based largely in part on retro games.

It kind of made me want to rethink how to make games altogether, how to approach it, because I was really inspired by what I saw: this very fresh outlook from the creators on the indie scene. So I’d been thinking of how to develop that together and channel it into Travis Strikes Again, and so, creating the six game worlds that Travis goes into is the method that I chose.

How has it been developing for the Switch? The Wii obviously had limitations but you were able to make the most of its unique features (like shaking the Wii Remote to charge the beam katana).

Has it been easier working on the Switch, with its extra power, and have you been able to make the game you pictured in your head as a result?

It’s very different from developing the previous games on the Wii, mainly because with those games we had to hand-make our own engine and that took a long time, especially in the early stages of development: management control was very hard.

This time on the Switch we’re using middleware: we’re developing it using Unreal Engine 4. That gives us a lot of great advantages, mainly in terms of getting builds out quickly.

It also gives us time to work on what’s been another big part of development, which is building our core team. We started out with a very small team that was mainly comprised of very young staff members. Building that core team and learning how to work together as a small staff was very important throughout the process, though of course there were a lot of problems we had to overcome.

But it’s interesting because along the way, old staff members who had been on the bigger teams in the past started coming back and we started gaining more team members, like you would gain new party members in an RPG. And that was like a big adventure for us, and a lot of fun.

The game has t-shirt collaborations, which means Travis can wear shirts featuring logos of popular indie games like Undertale, Bit.Trip Runner and Golf Story.

If Travis Strikes Again had actually been a retro game released in the ’90s, and Travis had a bunch of t-shirts with logos from ’90s games on them instead, which games would you choose?

Ohhhhh! That’s a very good question.

It’s also interesting because the thing is, aside from the t-shirt collaborations with modern indie games, we’ve also started something we’ve called the legendary collaborations.

These feature games that Travis has played in the past, games that Travis feels are legendary for him.

I can’t reveal any information about these legendary t-shirts yet, but you can look out for news probably after the game’s release: it’ll probably be around the release of the first DLC pack.

Can we buy these t-shirts?

Only in the game! But there will be some very surprising collaborations.

The Switch has been a fantastic system for ports of existing games: players are happy to buy old games again because they can play them in handheld mode.

If Travis Strikes Again is successful, would you be interested in re-releasing the first two No More Heroes games for gamers curious to see how the series started?

Yes, very interested! But the No More Heroes IP is owned between both Grasshopper and Marvelous, so you would have to talk with them too to see how it goes.

Your games are famously controversial and deal with mature subjects. This includes a lot of sex jokes (Travis’s relationship with Sylvia, scoring ‘erotic’ points in Michigan, and pretty much all of Lollipop Chainsaw).

As society continues to change and social media highlights these things more – like the situation with your friend James Gunn – do you think there’s still room for sexual jokes like that, as long as you make it clear that you do it for comedic effect and they aren’t to be taken seriously?

I’m not going to overthink it too much or worry about it too much, but also not overdo it at the same time.

I don’t like putting pointless things in any of my scripts, no matter the case: I feel like there always has to be a purpose for any sort of thing to be in there, whether it’s a joke or not.

In my mind, everything I put in is something I feel that people who are on this road with me can ‘get’ and laugh about together, so I don’t worry about it too much.

Speaking of Michigan, many of your older games were never released in the west, or were released in small numbers.

The Silver Case was given an HD remaster a couple of years ago: would you ever be interested in doing the same with games like Moonlight Syndrome, Michigan or maybe even Flower, Sun & Rain (which got a DS port) again?

Out of those three, the highest priority one on my list would probably be Flower, Sun & Rain. It was great to see it re-released on the DS several years ago and it was surprisingly popular.

It seemed to be mostly bought by core fans, but all the people who really liked it seem to say it’s their number one Grasshopper game. So I definitely want to figure out a way to get more people to be able to play it.

Your love for music is clear, especially punk and bands like The Smiths. If you were being sent to a desert island and you could only bring five albums with you, which five would it be?

Ohhhhhh…

(Literally minutes of silence)

So, the five albums are:

• The Smiths (the self-titled album)
• The Smiths’ Meat Is Murder
• The Smiths’ The Queen Is Dead
• The Smiths’ Strangeways Here We Come
• The Smiths’ The World Won’t Listen (which is a compilation album)

So only The Smiths?

Yes. [laughs]

Fair enough. Travis Touchdown is a huge wrestling fan, and we’ve spoken before about both wrestling and your love of football. If you could go out for a drink with either Shinsuke Nakamura (the wrestler), Shunsuke Nakamura (the footballer) or Shun Nakamura (the Sonic Team designer), who would it be?

[Laughs] Well, because I’m in the same industry as Sega I’d maybe think about picking that person, but I’d have to go with the wrestler, because the truth is that wrestler said he played Fire Pro Wrestling and that’s what made him want to be a pro wrestler, so I’d really love to go out and drink with him and hear that story.

Finally, the most important question of all – do you still have the Celtic football shirt I gave you in 2008?

Yes! It’s in my office. I have it hanging next to my desk.

Travis Strikes Again comes to the Switch on 19 January 2019. Expect a review on the site nearer launch.

7 comments

  1. Fantastic read Chris! Loved the last question! xD I would totally rebuy NMH 1&2 again (though I’d even settle for the Heroes Paradise Remaster from PS3) 😛
    Love Suda so much! Thanks for getting him back for an interview!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes has been released just last 18th of January this year. And a huge respect to Goichi Suda for being a badass designer. It’s great to see a NMH game on the Switch. I’m looking forward to NMH 3.

        Great post by the way!

        Like

  2. This is a fantastic interview. I love how Suda’s comes across as so honest in his interviews.

    Great questions in any event, Chris. You even managed to score a bit of a scoop with that t-shirt question!

    Funnily enough I’m in the middle of reviewing Killer7 at the moment.

    Like

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