Talk: Nasu Kinoko X Urobuchi Gen
A conversation between TYPE-MOON's Nasu and Nitroplus' Urobuchi on making games and more. Originally appeared in the jacket of the Kara no Kyoukai Drama CD.
Nasu Kinoko -- A scenario writer at TYPE-MOON. His Tsukihime was a doujin game, but possessed such a dense volume of content and high quality that it shocked the bishojo game world when it was released. He wrote Kara no Kyoukai.
Urobuchi Gen -- A scenario writer at Nitroplus. His works Phantom ~Phantom of Inferno~ and Vampirdzhija Vjedogonia are based in violent worlds, and his special touches have attracted many fans.
Do you shave off or load up on content when you create?
Nasu: I'll start by discussing Kikokugai: The Cyber Slayer. That game really shocked me. How long did it take you to create that?
Uro: I had its structure planned for quite a while, and then I just put together a scenario much later. I hardly did any kind of data collecting. I was working at the time, so I didn't have much leeway, but I was finally just like "I can't take it anymore, please let me write this!" (laughs), so I started writing the day after I got some time. The idea was to make it as quickly as possible, so there were no production planning meetings or anything like that. It took about five months.
Nasu: That's so fast!!
Uro: Yeah. That's my all-time record. Like I said, though, I had the structure ready.
Nasu: Ahh, that makes me feel better. (laughs) I thought you had created all that from nothing.
Uro: There's no way I could do that! (laughs)
Q: So you had wanted to write Kikokugai for a long time?
Uro: Yes. It wasn't very sellable at the time, though. I'm surprised they let me. (laughs)
Nasu: If you put choices in a revenge tale, the revenge cycle crumbles. Is that why you didn't put choices in?
Uro: If there was some choice like "Revenge is bad, I guess I won't do it after all," then it'd become a completely different story. (laughs)
Nasu: I'm sort of jealous/fascinated by how much damage Kikokugai did to me. Experiencing it was...(deep sigh) (laughs) Did you create the written parts of Vjedogonia and Phantom specifically for the games?
Uro: With Vjedogonia, yes.
Nasu: Kikokugai seemed to be filled with Uruobuchi sentences.
Uro: True. No one stopped me back then. (laughs)
Nasu: I really enjoyed it.
Uro: I got worried that I might reach a dead end with that style, though. I didn't create Kikokugai with the intent to get any sort of admiration from the users...we have a lot of writers at Nitroplus now, so it wouldn't be unusual if I sort of wore out my welcome like that (laughs). Users who've experienced those two games probably already have a very vivid image of me formulated in their minds. Like, "oh, so this is the kind of bastard Urobuchi is." That's where I reach my limit as a creator. But I don't mind, really.
Nasu: It's like being seen completely naked.
Uro: Yep, I've taken off all I can. (laughs)
Nasu: What will happen with your next work, then?
Uro: Yes, I think I need to start doing data collecting.
Nasu: So you've already taken as much from within as you can?
Uro: Everything that had a shape, that is.
Nasu: So it's like you just threw out all your old clothes. (laughs)
Uro: Indeed. I still read voraciously though. (laughs)
Nasu: I see, so that's how you keep your data fresh. Don't take this the wrong way, but don't you find that the more you do that, the harder you start to work? Do you ever worry about when you'll get out of breath?
Uro: If I get out of breath during crunch time, it's game over, so I try to cut corners in other ways during those times. At our company, I'm in charge of cutting things in our projects. When things get out of control, I go into "purge" mode. (laughs)
Q: So instead of trying to add as much as possible, you're more concerned about what to cut?
Uro: You can split the span of production into two stages. In the data collecting stage, you try to stuff in as much as you can, but when the day comes when you try and actually create it with all the money you've saved up, that's when you start cutting. It's like the cutting room in film terminology. You shoot as much as you can until you have no more film left, then you start cutting. Then all that's left is to put it all together. Even if I happen to find something later and think, "Well, I kinda like that," I'll still just cut it.
Q: And you, Nasu-san?
Nasu: I always try to push myself to the limit...if I have ten bags, I try to make ten ideas to fit them. And then if I still have ideas left over, I think about making new bags to fit them in. I end up with a lot leftover...part of me really wants to give the users a great experience, but I know that these days, people don't spend one or two weeks on games. I know it's good to make something that can be finished quickly and enjoyed all the way through, but I've always been a stuffer.
Uro: I think that's part of the charm of your works, Nasu-san. Even if one of your works ended in an hour, I think of that as just one hour in an entire history. It has depth. I'm really amazed, you know, when I read something like Tsukihime Dokuhon and see how everything was so planned...it's really amazing. Really. (laughs)
Nasu: Honestly, I'm not sure whether my work is being properly represented through that. (laughs)
Uro: It's like showing one part of something, or one edge of a glacier. I think that sort of unseen expanse is really attractive.
Nasu: I don't -- and I know you'll probably laugh when you hear this, but -- I don't want to lie about anything. That's the one aspect of my old works that I still treasure -- when I make rules in the beginning, I try to stick with them through the end.
Uro: You mean like drawing a timeline beforehand, like Nagano Mamoru-san did with Five Star Stories.
Uro: That's pretty intense. I really love that. If you read the timeline first, all the information flows into your head like something from a textbook. And all the important points in the story appear in the timeline, too, so reading the manga I was always like "Oh no...this is that one part in the timeline where...!" You get the same great feeling a second time.
Nasu: I used to think that knowing the ending before you read something would cut down on the excitement, but as long as other people share your opinion, I know that's not true. (laughs)
Uro: When readers figure out who a certain character is or which historical scene it is they're reading, they feel a special excitement, like "I'm experiencing a historical moment!" ...In fictional history, that is. (laughs)
Nasu: That's the ideal scenario. I'd love to get there...
Uro: Oh, I think the Nasu World has plenty of potential.
Nasu: Well, thank you. (laughs) There are certain creators who get really deep into one world and have trouble getting out of there, you know? You don't seem to have that problem with your works, though. They're all set in their own independent worlds, beautifully reflecting your style. I'm really jealous.
Uro: I suppose that's because I only write what I know.
Nasu: All of your works so far have been different genres, but they all have a sense of unity to them. Kikokugai, Vjedogonia, and Phantom are all set in different worlds, but it's SO obvious that they're Urobuchi works! I think it's amazing how easily they can be identified.
Uro: Well, you know, I was trying to break out of that mold, but I guess I failed.
Uro: I thought about turning things over with Vjedogonia. I wanted to make it seem like someone completely different from the author of Phantom had written it, but I got extremely frustrated. (laughs) And the next thing I knew, the main character was going to school... (laughs)
Nasu: (laughs) Was Vjedogonia intended to be a school drama at the start?
Uro: Yeah, with childhood friends. (laughs) And I figured I'd throw in a big-breasted girl with glasses too. When I started to really cement the characters, though...I realized I didn't know how to start moving them through the story. (laughs)
Nasu: I understand that pain. (laughs)
Uro: And then my staff were always just saying stuff like "Yeah, this guy's got no battle strength." (laughs)
Nasu: Without putting in normal people, users can't really get a sense for how strong the truly strong characters are, but if you make a normal person the heroine, then it becomes a challenge on how to use her.
Uro: By the time the childhood friend became a karate master...I just realized "I guess this is the only kind of story I know how to write." (laughs) I had no intention to put a karate master in at the start, you know.
Nasu: That childhood friend was just so energetic. (laughs)
Uro: Childhood friends are there to support. (laughs) At the time, I was re-reading volumes of Grappler Baki. (laughs) Next thing you know, I completely changed the character...
All: (Loud laughter)
New works are born out of everything that we've cultivated up until now.
Nasu: So basically, in the beginning, you create the setting, and then as you start to write the story things just start to fall into place...
Uro: Oh, no, the setting always comes later for me. I sort of accept that there are various settings that would work well with the story...it's like I receive radio waves, and if I think "something's wrong with the code I got," then I fix it according to how I feel.
Nasu: You instantly fix it? In your head?
Uro: Yep, however the waves tell me to. (laughs)
Q: Do the users ever point out things to you that make you go "Oh, yeah, good point?"
Uro: Yep, all the time.
Nasu: I'm afraid of being told things like that. Like they're going to call me a liar or something. (laughs) My fear pushes me to perfect my stories.
Uro: I'm always bungee jumping...and blindly believing in the radio waves. (laughs) So if there are contradictions in my stories, then that just means my antennas got mixed up for a bit.
Q: So even if there is a contradiction, you still keep on pushing ahead?
Uro: Yes. If I get afraid of it, then I'll end up stopping...I have to believe in that person who's sending me the radio waves. (laughs) So I really have no grasp on the scope of the entire world. I can only really become an observer of each separate scene...the ones who truly get the bird's-eye-view are the readers. I feel like I'm really making a dangerous gamble with that, though. (laughs)
Nasu: Real success at making stories means that all of a sudden, you find yourself with this beautiful blueprint ready to be worked on.
Uro: Sometimes I feel...like there's something lurking inside of me. (laughs)
Nasu: Some magical muse. (laughs)
Uro: Yes, like I have a special friend or something. (laughs)
Nasu: I'd like one myself, personally. (laughs)
Uro: That's why I'm really scared. If that friend stops sending me radio waves all of a sudden, then I'm finished. (laughs) That's why...it may seem selfish, but I don't accept many revisions. Even if someone says something simple like "Can we please put in this image here?" I say "Sorry, but that wasn't in the waves." (laughs)
Nasu: I know you were in charge of everything on Kikokugai, but with Phantom and Vjedogonia, did you plan where the event scenes would happen and which images went where?
Uro: Yes, I had great control over Phantom. Ah, but when I came up with the plot, the president of Nitroplus, Mr. Dejitarou, being a car lover, sort of interfered. "Put in some kind of car," he said. (laughs) So I had one of the characters ride in one. (laughs)
Nasu: The skyscraper car chase scene in Kikokugai was very exciting. I was enthralled.
Uro: Thank you very much.
Nasu: I really want to play the next part, but I feel like I need to take my time or else it'd be a waste. Whenever I finish one chapter, I try to take a break...like for an hour...but I can never be patient. (laughs) Anyway, I really loved it.
Uro: To be honest, I think I should have put more content in that game...there's always one person out of the five that ends up having no purpose. When you get to that point, the development sort of stops at the primary and secondary character, and then sort of struggles to give development to the third. You see, before I began the project, I had already thought up the catchphrase: "Revenge takes five people." (laughs)
Nasu: Hahahaha! (laughs)
Uro: After that, everyone kept pestering me. "How many people does it take again?!" "Uhhh...five?" (laughs) I was just pushing forward on momentum alone. I didn't even let the staff read the script until we were in the debug stage.
Nasu: When I start planning a game, I'm so busy with work that I can't see any of the other sides of the production process. I just show the plot to other staff members, explain how it works, and then leave the rest to them. In a way, they really trust me.
Uro: Same with our company. I do worry time to time though.
Nasu: Yeah, like, you know it's interesting to yourself, but what about other people?
Uro: I...simply determine whether or not something's good on my own.
Nasu: Ohh, so you're just sort of like "Well, the die has been cast?!"
Uro: More like, "Well, if it sucks, then that's not my fault, it's the radio waves' fault!" (laughs)
Nasu: Ahahahaha!! (Loud laughter)
Uro: No, but the truth is...I have no idea if it's really good or not on my own. Basically, I'm pretty nervous all the time. But being nervous doesn't help much...so the only thing I can do is believe in the waves. (laughs) Before I finish writing the script, I always find a bunch of flaws on my own. Like, "this will probably irk a lot of people"...or "I'm copying too much here"...but you know, I think that the users aren't bothered by a surprising amount of it.
Nasu: You're so right. Whenever you yourself think "this could be dangerous"...that's usually the part that critics ignore. And then you find them criticizing parts you didn't even notice, and you go "Ohhhh, I get it now.h
Uro: And I actually laugh at the parts that I realized I subconsciously copied from something else. Someone will tell me "You totally copied off ___ here!" and I'll go "What?! Well, now that you mention it, you're right!!" (laughs)
Nasu: Hahahaha! (laughs)
Uro: I get told "You put so many little jokes in", but I guess it's sort of like a nerve reaction. (laughs) ...I suppose I just put them in unconsciously...
Q: Do you think the influence you get from other works happens unconsciously too?
Uro: Yes. My works are like compilations of all that influence.
Nasu: There were a lot of things I read in my youth that made me feel "Wow, this is so good!" And now I'm writing things that I think are good...so I think that all my past influences have gone through myself, are converted somewhat, and come back out again. I think this can be said for all people...
Uro: Some people might get angry at this, but sometimes I really wonder, what IS originality, anyway? Personally, I don't believe originality exists at all. Even if I'm not conscious of it, I know I'm copying off something. (laughs) To me, all past works I've experienced are like sperms, and I'm the egg. And what I write is our children. Anyway, I've just been raped so many times that I have no idea who the real father is (laughs).
Nasu: Hahahaha (laughs)
Uro: No, really. That's what I think is really amazing about your work, Nasu-san. One parameter is the amount of 2D works you have at Comiket. That's a parameter I can believe in. Just how much work you have out there. I really believe Tsukihime is impregnating a lot of people. Honestly, I just can't compete with that.
Nasu: I think that in a way, if my work had come out earlier than now, people wouldn't have permitted it. But lately, the amount of "entertainment" out there has really increased, and people have gained more antennae to the stuff. So I figured that because of the situation, if I put my hook down I'd at least get one bite. (laughs)
Uro: 18+ game users really have a wide capacity.
Nasu: Yes. The first 18+ game I played was ONE, and then To Heart. After those two I tried many others, and when I thought I knew exactly what "bishojo games" were, then Phantom and Vjedogonia came along...I was so happy to see that people could go this far and get away with it. I knew there had to be others like those, so I searched...but there were only a few more. I think Nitroplus' words are really special in that respect, they only appear once in a while...
Uro: That just goes to show how magnanimous our company is. (laughs) I can't believe they actually agreed to those plans.
Do you step into the work, or watch from an objective perspective?
Nasu: A Phantom DVD came out. Aren't you afraid of touching finished works?
Uro: Honestly, I don't like it. Even before fear...I really think creation is a lot like love. Once you master it up, it's farewell...so getting back together with a finished work brings the same kind of pain as getting back together with an ex-girlfriend. (laughs)
Q: So you never have regrets about works or wish you could fix certain areas?
Uro: I...would kill myself in that respect. I have to decide that I'm going to turn my eyes away from this when I finish, otherwise I can't push myself all the way while I'm writing. "How many more days do I have left with it?" I have to be thinking stuff like that. Of course there are rough patches in my older works, but I honestly don't want to touch them. So when people come to me talking about ports and remakes, I usually pass them on to other people. But they're often scared themselves, and say "Please don't say things like that." (laughs) So I tell them I'll take a look and think about it, but then just abandon it in the end. (laughs)
Nasu: Wow, I feel the exact same way! I don't mind if someone touches and arranges something I've already completed, but I just couldn't bear to destroy it myself. I wrote Kara no Kyoukai when I was aiming to become an author...so I felt like I had said farewell to it when I completed it then, but Tsukihime was a combination of my interests and my partner Takeuchi-kun's interests, so I could reach an understanding there. There are many needless sentences, so I do feel like I'd like to fix Tsukihime, but I do feel that if you decide that once you finish the work, it's goodbye, then that will help you to cut out a lot of the fat...that's what I'm aiming for. (laughs)
Uro: If you were to put it another way, it's like compromising. Whether that's bad or not, that's the attitude you need to have to keep going. In a way you have to just cut the cord.
Nasu: When you finish something, Urobuchi-san, do you always feel like the next work is waiting for you?
Uro: Yes...I'm not exactly bound to my work, but...how should I put this? My daily life IS my work, I suppose. (laughs)
Nasu: I see. (laughs)
Uro: Of course, there are times when I get cocky and just spend my time reading books. I insist "this is part of my work too!" and just keep reading...kinda scary that my company permits that, eh? (laughs)
Nasu: A while back when I saw your comment in a magazine about "Everyone, once the scheduled time comes, just go home," and thought, "Wow, they must get off work so early." (laughs)
Uro: I absolutely have no barrier between work and private life, so even when I'm just walking around town, if I see something, I think about how to connect it with work. On the other hand, when time to go home rolls around, I read books, finish up my project, take a breather...then I realize I'm still at work. (laughs) And when I go home I just spend my time thinking of new projects. (laughs)
Q: Do you feel a sense of accomplishment when you finish something?
Nasu: I guess what I feel is a sense of release. Ever since my works have gotten recognition, however...I've felt more excitement and unrest on how it's going to be received.
Uro: I...have absolutely no room to feel fear. (laughs)
Nasu: You're just so happy you managed to finish it. (laughs)
Uro: Yes. Like, I made it back alive! The radio waves didn't cut off! (laughs)
Nasu: (laughs) Getting back to Kikokugai, Chuo Higashiguchi-san did the art, and I really fell in love with the music. And with the Vjedogonia music...I love rock, so I was like "Ahh! He got me!" (laughs)
Uro: The music really saves a lot. The truth is in the beginning I wanted to just present one tale from Kikokugai for promotion, but I thought "There's no way, we can't let them read the sentences unless the sound's there too." The music awakens a lot of it. Those aren't sentences to be read in silence, I thought. When I read the sentences myself...it's pretty bad. If there are only 5 lines, it's OK, but you get 10 lined up...and I get dizzy. (laughs)
Nasu: With ADV games and novel games, the player controls the sentences they read, so longer sentences can be expressed well. I'm one of those people who look at the story structure more than the sentence structure, so I was really surprised when I played Kikokugai. I don't think I could go that far myself. (laughs) And I realized I had to fight on different terrain. (laughs)
Uro: I thought the same thing while playing Tsukihime. It was like a turning point for me. I realized, "I can't do this"...I thought I had to entrust Nitroplus to someone else...that Urobuchi was done for. In a way, it was like I saw my limit. I realized I couldn't win against entertainment of this type. I had been thinking about the difference between Nasu-san and I ever since then...for example, the world of these works is like an ocean. It's the writers' job to swim in the ocean, collect fish, and then come back to the shore. It may sound conceited coming from me, but I think I swim fast, and am good at planning where to dive into a big group of fish...so I may get there quicker than Nasu-san. But Nasu-san has gills. He can guess beforehand how long his breath will last after he dives, so he can swim around as he likes and enjoy the scenery, freely playing with the worldview of the characters...I think. That's where the charm of the characters, their freshness comes from.
Nasu: That story just now really hit me hard. I think I feel the same way.
Uro: For example, if Ciel and Arcueid were standing here right now, I think Nasu-san would be able to handle them pretty well. I'd get afraid, though, if I met my own characters.
Nasu: Well, if Tao Law was in front of me, I'd be afraid too. (laughs) He's scary. And he always bets everything on one stroke.
Uro: (laughs) I really can't step in from the objective zone. Like I said before, I'm not exactly free, but Nasu-san is really locked in a grapple with his characters, like he's writing the story as he cracks jokes with them. That's what I really felt. The charm of his characters...it transmits directly to the users, and that's why he's so popular. And I realized I can't expect to reach the same results.
Nasu: This may sound paradoxical, but maybe it's because I'm playing around that I can't look at it from an objective viewpoint. Maybe I'm a bit dry...
Uro: Yes. It's fear toward the ocean. I imagine that you aren't scared, Nasu-san. You're just walking without a care. But I'm afraid of the ocean, so I swim fast, or desperately. (laughs) I think that's the real difference.
Q: Nasu-san tries to push forward the worldview, and his characters are charming. He also doesn't pull his punches with the villains, keeping a distance.
Nasu: Authors aren't gods. If they want to stay as gods then they can't put any emotion into writing the story. I try not to, but a little bit manages to slip through. However, I thought Urobuchi-san was god when I saw Nahatsela's death. Some people thought it happened too fast, but I was like "This is the way it has to be!" However strong someone might be, however key they may be to the story, when they die, they die. Urobuchi-san's stance toward that made me feel like he was acting as "God."
Uro: I was just writing according to God's orders. (laughs)
All: (Loud laughter)
Nasu: So there's another God above God. (laughs)
Uro: Well, I really think my limit at the objective is both my strength and my limit. I can't step forward from there and play with the characters. Although I know that's what the characters really want.
Nasu: We are selling fantasies, after all. As creators, we want the users to remain in the fantasy for as long as possible.
Uro: I got a bit frustrated when pursuing that goal with Vjedogonia. I tried to search for the problem...and while I was looking around, I found Tsukihime...this is it, I thought! And realized I couldn't do it. (laughs)
Nasu: I've always been curious. Where did you find out about Tsukihime?
Uro: The Internet. Its release date was similar to Vjedogonia's. And it had vampires...so I was like huh? I've never heard of this, and checked it out. Then I realized it was a doujin! (laughs) I was really surprised.
Nasu: You can't underestimate the Internet.
Uro: Yeah. Honestly, Phantom was saved by the Internet.
Nasu: It started making a profit too late?
Uro: Well, there was NO profit in the beginning. (laughs) We didn't really expect that much...but it was even less than we expected. (laughs) The CEO and I were on our deathbeds.
Nasu: I know it's very depressing when you know you've put out something good but the results don't appear...you ever wonder if you can truly survive in this industry?
Uro: No, the truth is I already knew I couldn't by the time I reached the mastering up. (laughs) Ahh...you can't play around with people's money. (laughs) So, I didn't think it was going to sell. And I question why it's still selling.
Nasu: Yes, because some very good things don't sell anymore.
Uro: Yeah...it's like, the users are looking for something else...we talked about users' capacity earlier. I really didn't believe that 18+ game users had that kind of capacity. But when you open them up...it's like, oh, hey, they all read Grappler Baki! (laughs)
Nasu: Ahahahaha! (laughs)
Uro: That's why, when everyone tells me to "write a fight scene that takes place in the 18+ game industry world," I think, oh, they're just giving me words of praise. (laughs)
All: (Loud laughter)
"Moe" is something the users find.
Nasu: About my next work, this is going to lead us into a bit of a dark discussion on whether to kill or not kill, but anyway, just thinking about how to outdo the fight scenes in Kikokugai keeps me awake at night. My next work will be fight after fight, though.
Uro: Tsukihime 2?
Nasu: No, if we do Tsukihime 2, it'll be once we've amassed enough capital to do so...I think my next work will be a battle royale, something that I've always wanted to do. A type of 18+ game that hasn't appeared so far. Speaking of which, isn't Kamen Rider Ryuki a battle royal? "Man, they got to it before me..." (laughs) But then when I was thinking about how as long as the battle scenes are good, it doesn't matter, I remembered Kikokugai...and I got depressed. (laughs)
Uro: Hahaha! (laughs) Why do customers like battle scenes so much? That still mystifies me.
Nasu: Because men want to be strong. They want to fight and win, and believe in their heart that justice wins out in the end. That's why they don't like painful battle scenes.
Uro: Perhaps bishojo game users are looking for the antithesis of fantasy, in a way...like how cats want to bite grass once in a while. (laughs)
Nasu: They get tired of the same taste. (laughs)
Uro: Maybe they want to smell some man-sweat once in a while. (laughs) That's why they read Grappler Baki.
Q: Is there some crossover between getting to know the girl in the game and becoming strong?
Nasu: I think the catharsis is what's so great about getting to know a cute girl and becoming really strong. It's hard to do in reality, but they've come to an agreement somewhere, and just like to enjoy the target work with this intention.
Uro: I can't do both.
Nasu: I thought I couldn't either, but when I tried to, I was able to. (laughs)
Uro: Yeah, you've really got them both, Nasu-san.
Nasu: Usually, when I say this, people say "Yeah right," but honestly, I can't write the kind of stuff people generally call "moe."
Nasu: When people say I'm writing moe, I'm usually just writing the story how I think would be the most entertaining. Like, I have to do this here, otherwise it'd be boring...the girls are all charming, and once you get to a certain point this kind of conversation happens. It's all natural to me.
Uro: Moe as something that people aim for seems to be a misunderstanding of planners, or perhaps a delusion. Real moe isn't moe as a result of what happens. It's something that customers find themselves. "Oh, there's moe here!" And when they discover that, they moe. So on the contrary, aiming for moe from our side is...well, actually, I did think about that during a certain period, but in the end I realized it was impossible.
Nasu: See, you even said yourself that you only aimed for it temporarily. When Hello World was announced after Vjedogonia...I got really excited. (laughs)
Uro: Hahahaha. (laughs)
Nasu: For a while I wasn't sure who the writer would be, and then you were set as the director...I was really relieved, but then again, I wanted to see your moe.
Uro: Actually, in the end I was little more than a supervisor. The whole idea of this was to try to create a Nitro game without letting any Urobuchi color slip in. I thought we had to separate Nitroplus and Urobuchi here, otherwise, we'd have problems from here on out. We had to separate the brand image and the writer image. And if we could do that, then we'd be on equal grounds.
Nasu: Users will be happy to see other writers on equal ground with you.
Q: There is only so much one person can do.
Nasu: I think that one writer can really only do about 5 works...once 5 are out there, the one that comes next will never be able to outdo those first 5.
Uro: Luc Besson already decided ahead of time how many he'll make. Pretty cool, huh? If you decide how many you'll make over the course of your entire life, then you really can't slack off. (laughs) That's different from being a producer, though. (laughs)
Nasu: Hahahaha. (laughs)
Uro: In that case, anything goes. (laughs)
Nasu: Like "I want you to make what I want to see." (laughs)
Uro: Yes. (laughs) But I agree that 5 works is the limit.
Nasu: If I can make 4 more firm pieces, then after that, I'll go become a monk, or go on a trip to Tibet or something...
Uro: Yeah, I really constantly remind myself that I need to do well. There are some mangaka out there that come back to life like phoenixes sometimes. I really admire that vitality. I think that's the cruelest world there is. Compared to that, our job is a piece of cake. (laughs)
Nasu: We can stretch our deadlines if we really need to. (laughs)
Uro: Yes, if we're really stuck, we can change our deadlines. It's nothing to boast about, though. (laughs)
Nasu: Because we're working with other people. We're in charge of the script, but sometimes things don't go as planned, and the artists can't come up with pictures when we need them.
Uro: It is kind of like a government.
Nasu: Were you the producer on Kikokugai too?
Uro: I guess I was kind of like a producer...in other words, I would creep up behind people, pat them on the shoulder, and go "Hey, you don't look busy." (laughs) "How about drawing me this?" (laughs) Wheedling each person...then next thing I know, I've got a huge credits list. (laughs) I did some bad things.
Nasu: I thought in the beginning it was just you, Chuo Higashiguchi-san, the programmers, the CG event people and the music people.
Uro: No, you see I was able to deceive the CEO (laughs) And then all of a sudden...
Nasu: Hahahaha. (laughs)
Uro: But you know, you just can't cut it otherwise unless you play that dirty. (laughs)
Nasu: I thought Nitroplus' 3D was really strong, but the angles in Kikokugai were really surprising. I thought it was so cool.
Uro: We got that done through a division of labor. I would only order the absolute minimum necessary. I'd say "as long as we have this much, we'll be fine," and that really lit a spark in some people. "Hmph! Fine then, I'm gonna go ahead and make all this too!" They'd go on little adventures. It was a nice relationship.
Nasu: Wow, that's ideal. (laughs)
Uro: I would also turn in really patronizing plans, and the other side would get pissed off. "Don't underestimate us," they'd say. Or I'd say "It'd be really great if we had this kind of scene, but you don't have the time, do you?" That would get a reaction out of them. (laughs) With the 3D parts especially, they'd just throw them at me. Sometimes my expectations were betrayed...I'd be like, really worried...because I'd get something so vastly different, but I decided not to worry about it. The buildings in Kikokugai they made were just so huge, like, the kind of buildings the boss of the town would live in. (laughs) I had expected some more modest-looking ones, but I decided, ah well, they're fine like this. So I just rewrote the floor numbers of buildings to be twice what they were before. (laughs) I also got 3, 4 times more cuts for the armored car in Vjedogonia than what I expected. If you give them the script then just let them do whatever they want, they REALLY do whatever they want. (laughs)
Nasu: So the artists think, like, "OK, we'd like to draw this kind of picture here."
Uro: Yes, they draw stuff, but what they come up with makes me doubt my eyes. (laughs)
Nasu: That's similar to how Takeuchi-kun operates. We express things through sentences, right? He tells me "Decide where the pictures are going to go," and I say "everywhere." (laughs) Or perhaps "I don't need any." (laughs) So in the end I tell him "I can't decide, so just decide which scenes you want to highlight." And he lists them off and decides for me. It really helps me out if he can decide the event scenes, because then I can fix the sentences to be more climactic. It's fun doing teamwork like that.
Uro: But teamwork does have its limits. How should I put this...it's hard when you get over 4 or 5 people. That's where Hello World's having trouble.
Nasu: You aren't making Hello World the same way you made past titles?
Uro: Yes. Its actual structure is a bit different, so we're having trouble with production there.
"Voices" are thrilling for script writers.
Q: What does it feel like to have voices added to your works?
Uro: Well, I can say this now, but the Phantom DVD was really painful. Sentences you read and sentences that you speak are completely different. Like I said before, I throw it off to other people. Did you rewrite everything this time, Nasu-san?
Nasu: No, uh, I...with Tsukihime, I want to take a break, rewrite everything and polish it all up, but with Kara no Kyoukai, it's basically dead to me.
Uro: What! Really?
Nasu: Yes. I don't like touching dead things. Not to get off track, but I'm never free when I'm actively working on a project. Even if I know the ending, I don't know how the story will proceed to get there. That's why it's exciting to write. But, when it ends, and I think, "Well, that was fun," I say goodbye. I'm never going to meet them again...the story is dead...And what's more, I can fix anything that only belongs to me, but I can never fix anything that other people know about. That's why I show everyone everything I do with lots of funeral cosmetics piled on. That's how much I don't want to touch something that's finished. I'd like to fix the bad places for this drama CD that's coming out, but I can't touch it myself. I just feel like "Wow, they're going to put voices to this?" Kind of like a strange feeling...but I'm not going to the actual recording, so I have no idea how it'll turn out. I am nervous.
Uro: I think it's worth experiencing at least once.
Nasu: How was it with Phantom?
Uro: Very thrilling. My characters came to life so vibrantly. They pour power into my lines. The voice actors shoulder my burden. I was really surprised. I thought "Wow, if they're this good, then I don't need this sentence."
Nasu: Like, they express in one sentence what you used two to express?
Uro: Exactly. That's exactly it. And even better voice actors can do in 1 what I used 3 or 4 to do. Or just by putting in a single sigh. "That's it, that sigh did the trick. We don't need this line." (laughs)
Uro: The important thing is that the voice actors properly understand the characters' mind. That's what it all comes down to. If you can clear that hurdle, you don't need to explain anything. They'll take care of everything else. The atmosphere, the space around them, "How many people are in this room?" There's no way you can outdo that. I was depressed for a while afterwards. I thought, "What are script writers?" (laughs) If we have voice actors, we don't need script writers. (laughs)
Nasu: Do you want to put voices in your next work?
Uro: Voices...not really. When I put voices in I want to write focusing on the voices.
Nasu: As a user, I think it's a great bonus to have voices. But personally, I want you to go without the voices, Urobuchi-san...I know this is a paradox. (laughs)
Uro: Voices are really an art of their own. That's a different type of creation. For sure. Voices...are massive.
Nasu: I don't think there's any reason to put voices in my own work. I'd like to keep going retro-style for a while. (laughs)
Uro: It's like an artistic tradition.
Nasu: There are sentences that go with voices, and those that don't. When you start to get a bunch of useless information in your head like me, the sentences start to sound annoying. (laughs)
Uro: Did you listen to the voices in the drama CD?
Nasu: They haven't been recorded yet.
Uro: I see.
Nasu: It fills me with unrest to hear them say all these really long lines. I feel like I should have shaved them down more. (laughs)
Uro: I really think Inoue Kumiko-san's Sumiko-san is amazing. When I was shown the planning documents, I was like "OMG!" (laughs) "She's hitting every note!" (laughs)
Nasu: Hahahaha. (laughs) I can't wait.
Uro: The impact from when she first speaks is really something. (laughs)
Nasu: I'll either faint from joy or run from fear. (laughs)
Uro: Hahahaha. (laughs) Like I said before, there's this certain feeling you get when the character's standing before you. Of course, when the voice comes in, at that moment, the work instantly becomes something else. That's how heavy the weight of voices are, so if you're worried about it changing, then you should think carefully about putting voices in. There are ways to move it in a positive direction, though. It's just how you go about it.
As a game script writer.
Q: Do you ever think about what you'd like to become as a script writer?
Uro: You use past tense in your novels...right?
Nasu: I stopped that.
Nasu: Honestly, I like making games. There are painful points, yes. If there are 4 heroines, then I have to write 4 scripts. But I don't like writing stories for heroines where the other heroines aren't involved. I want to make a family structure. If there are 4 heroines, then their lines will all run parallel to each other at the same time, with no paradoxes. So, in short, fun brings pain. (laughs) However, not doing things this way and making the story end cleanly makes it more interesting, and quicker to write...so I have this dilemma. But I'm having fun right now. I have my regrets for my time as an author, but I don't have any desires in that area anymore. I was just terrorized by some obsession that I had to write a novel by the time I turned 20. So I was barely able to finish one, sent it to a publisher, and got rejected...then I started working solely on Tsukihime, and realized there was no need to force myself to keep running...I just thought about enjoying myself, and hopped between being an author and a script writer. But right now, Kara no Kyoukai is the finest doujin product I feel I can create. Do I still have passion as an author...? I thought about it, but I just keep getting less interested...I just feel that without art and music, my sentences lose their stamina...(laughs)
Uro: See, you have gills, so you were able to freely play around with that stuff. Novels are a straight line. Maybe you're more suited for that, Nasu-san...to be honest, I liked Kara no Kyoukai more than Tsukihime. I think because I'm swimming without gills.
Nasu: I did everything I wanted to do in Kara no Kyoukai. "I want to read this kind of story, but it's nowhere to be found. Alright then, I'll make it myself." I wrote it to satisfy myself. Then I had some empty space. Then we started talking about Tsukihime, and I thought "OK, I'll change my direction with this game." But in writing the script, I thought, making games is fun! (laughs)
Uro: Games are filled with every type of expression. Picture, sound, sentences, story. But...but I really don't have the capacity to put on gills and move around like that. I think I really want to work on straighter stuff. But shifting to novels after all this...losing the pictures and sound for simply text...I think going only with words is a bit too high an order for me.
Nasu: When I was first writing Tsukihime, I was writing it like a novel, and I was told that they wouldn't be able to make a game from it. So I cut out all the descriptions of the characters' faces, since the pictures would express that...and then, after I got used to writing this type of script, and we finished, I thought, "Will I be able to write novels again?" I was afraid I had gotten too used to the format. That's what Kagetsu Tohya and Tsukihime Extra Chapter were born from. There was one story in there written in a novel style. It was kind of like a test for myself. I wanted to see if I could still write a novel...so I was selfish and just did what I wanted. (laughs) My condition wasn't as big a despair as I thought it'd be. And I was able to write something like a novel. (laughs)
Uro: Really, though, when you don't write for a while, it's scary how dull it seems like your senses become.
Nasu: But they say that what you spend 10-20 years doing becomes painted on your genes...so once you start writing, it all comes back.
Uro: To be honest...I'd really like to create a "game-ish" game.
Nasu: There was a really scary catchphrase on the back of Kikokugai. (laughs) "The first in a Cyber-Novel series." (laughs)
Uro: Hahahaha. (laughs) Everyone talked to me about that. Well, when I thought it up for the first time, I thought "This would work better as a novel." So I thought that'd fly. But Kikokugai wasn't criticized as much as I thought it'd be, so I thought 4,400 yen was OK as the price. At first I had no confidence, though. Novel + Soundtrack + CG collection...it all depended on how much the customers valued that direction. The whole discussion about halving the price got us into a fight about whether or not we'd actually be able to make a profit.
Nasu: But, you sold more...than expected?
Uro: That's what it looks like.
ADV games provide possibilities.
Nasu: What kind of games do you play? Consumer action games, or RPGs?
Uro: Hmm...I don't like RPGs and adventure games. "This isn't a game, it's a game book," I think. If I really want to play a game, I want to play an online game or some kind of virtual experience. So I'm always playing action games. Lately I've been playing Devil May Cry. With RPGs...I could never finish Final Fantasy all the way to the end. I thought, "You know, instead of playing this, I'd rather just read a book." In terms of making endings, there's just a certain wall you hit. With all the partitions, you may end up with 20 or 30, and there's no way you can do that. In action games, it's all about where you shoot the gun. Even I have my doubts when it comes to adventure game elements, though. During a meeting, when I show a flow chart of an adventure game and I'm asked "Is this game?", it's hard for me to say "Yes."
Nasu: I don't really think of them as "game" games, but more like visual novels...
Uro: Mmm...yes, this is a tough question. It's a question of how much more adventure games can really pull the game industry. I feel like their influence is really declining. I feel like there are still ways to do them...but I also feel like there's a lot of general doubt towards the whole genre. Users always watch all the different endings of a game all at once, and feel that there's no difference between that and playing through the game each time for each different ending.
Nasu: And lately games' openings are all the same...including Tsukihime. Once a heroine comes in, though, the user can choose to follow her to the end, then they have to go back to the beginning and repeat everything.
Uro: Yes. The whole idea of really utilizing that outlook on the world to see varying possibilities...it's very convenient as the "soil" of a 2-D creation, and it may be what critics use to judge adventure games. But in that case, though, it isn't the "games," but the setting and the characters -- the "ingredients" that are being judged. With novels and movies, their one-track stories close the doors to all other possibilities. They negate all other possibilities. But games, on the contrary, throw the decision to the users, and let them play with the world as they wish. I think leaving the story open like that is how adventure games should be...it might even be their true purpose for existence. That's why I think true "game" elements or what have you may not really be what people want.
Nasu: I think the fact that there are so many meaningless choices in games today may add to some of that. But when you go into an unknown world for the first time and see a "left" or "right" decision that will clearly take your destiny down a different path, I think it gives the game charm...Age Soft does a lot of these "extreme choices," and I think that's where the true charm of adventure games lies. If you reload the save you'll be able to see what happens down to the other path, but you still won't know what's ahead on the path you're on now. So you end up playing both paths at the same time, going down one way and thinking "Oh, so if I had gone down this path back there, this would have happened..." Then, finally, the ending is completely different. It's like a jack-in-the-box. I think that's what makes adventure games fun.
Uro: When a jack-in-box is opened, it surprises the user, and then that's it. You have to wonder how long customers will keep paying for a one-trick horse like that.
Nasu: It has to do with how fleshed-out the contents of the game are...it's true even if you manage to surprise people once, there's still that worry that they'll eventually get bored with the product...however, remember the three greatest human desires: sleep, eating, and sex. (laughs) If our game manages to connect to one of those (the erotic side), then we won't have to worry about people losing interest. (laughs)
Q: So does game planning turn into a struggle of balance between erotic and other content?
Uro: To be honest, I think that you have to be extremely pessimistic with all adventure game stories. I try to think about what kind of game current customers who are interested in romance are looking for...and this is just my hypothesis, but I think games are fine as being kind of like tutorials, like what we were talking about earlier. They're packages of character materials, and then a scenario comes with it kind of like an example of what can be done with that package. It's just one example using someone's 2D guidelines, or imagination guidelines, or whatever...I've started to feel like things are fine staying this way. Using the character materials as a starting point, and then having the users use their own imaginations, is probably the best shape for a "moe game," I feel. And if that's true, then scenario writers have no purpose. So I'd be in danger...now I'm really starting to scare myself.
Nasu: I don't like criticizing others' works, but you know the game Hajimete no Orusuban? That really shocked me. I knew logically it was natural that it became a hit, but at the same time, I was really shocked. When that game came out, I thought about quitting making games. I just felt like I wouldn't be needed anymore.
Uro: Yes, I know how you feel.
Nasu: Until that point, it may sound naive, but I really believed in the power of the story. (laughs)
Q: So are you saying that in order to make a really good game, you need no scenario writer?
Uro: It has to do with the difference between a "game scenario" and a "story scenario."
Nasu: I think from the start, you have to decide whether the plot is better suited toward a game or a novel. If you have a plot that's suited for a game, you have to make sure it's good just as a story too. I think that's what it means to be a game scenario writer. If you just write a story and it ends up having no game functionality, then I think it's better without any...
Uro: It depends on the planning and the system. For example, this will seem really extreme, but let's look at Street Fighter II. I actually think that game has great story power. When you try to think about it, you may find yourself wondering "How can he pull off a Shoryuken with such expert timing?!" And bam, there you already have a story. That's all coming from a system level, where you have things like "this character is a wait character, this character is a speed character." They're sowing the seeds of good stories in the basest settings of their characters. That's probably what I'm getting at when I talk about game stories.
Nasu: Because the materials are so limited, the users are forced to make live interpretations...
Uro: Or how about expansive stories? Things like rapid-fire comedy acts, tabletop RPGs...what's the right word for those kind of stories? Anyway, I think this sort of ad lib, "instance drama" storytelling is the kind of stories that are suited for games. In that case, though, it means the scenario writer doesn't need to work on writing ability or anything like that...
Nasu: So you mean their job is basically to decorate?
Uro: Decorate...yeah, that's all they can do. I think. For example, to read ahead and think "well, there could be an interesting combination here," and then set it up...basically to think up and set up entertaining combination patterns.
Nasu: Yeah. You know what I think must be really difficult, is to make a fighting game...the action in those games is what processes the story, right? I think the best example is when using a special move changes the scene that comes next.
Uro: I think that great action games can make the best drama. For example, "This move is really strong, but it leaves me open." The problem is left in the users' hands. Like, "are you man enough to use this move?!" (laughs) "You're gonna be countered no matter what, you know?"! The excitement is in getting put in a sticky situation and still having the guts to use such a move...then getting lauded for it later. (laughs)
Q: There is a lot of "imagine the details for yourselves" kind of situations in entertainment these days, do you think that games should be including these situations too?
Uro: Hmmm...honestly, I think that good scenarios have no need for any kind of those situations. Whether or not it makes the users happy or not, those are the kind of scenarios we respect. With that said, though, I think if we were to create simply with that idea in mind, our ideas would stray far from what a "good game" is.
Nasu: Good scenarios for games don't create a single construction, but lay out every single part, and then let the users connect them to create a finished product.
Uro: I think that's the best case scenario. And even better if the finished product is more entertaining than the separate parts.
Nasu: But what about leaving situations up to the players? I know there are some players who will always come up with crazy ideas...and to them, it'll turn into a situation they like, so it'll be extremely entertaining to them, but...
Uro: True, if you're looking at adventure games as games "you don't need technique to enjoy," then there's no real problem. With action games, in order to enjoy the story and the real drama, you need to have mastered the system to a certain level, and someone watching you do it won't have any idea what's going on. I think, though, that ever since Virtua Fighter came out, the number of people who enjoy those kinds of games has been dropping. Maybe that sort of game is going out of style...maybe games are things that should be enjoyed on a lighter scale. Either way, adventure games aren't games that are meant to be "played well." Let's look at Alicesoft's Daiakuji. This is a deep, difficult game, but whenever the player makes a mistake, they can always just go restart from a save file. Where's the drama in that? (laughs)
Nasu: I have a hardcore friend who "never makes a single save file when playing games like Daiakuji. And I think that to people like them, games like Daiakuji are a lot of fun. Because you can't look back. I think normal users, though, when they miss a certain event, will go back and reload their save...
Uro: It really makes you question the needs of the users.
Q: What do you think about online RPGs? Do they have a sort of live ad lib appeal to them?
Uro: Yeah, we really can't compete with them. That's why we strive for a higher quality story. The only thing is, when I'm asked "Should you be writing stories specifically FOR games," I start to wonder.
Nasu: I wonder why there are so many pornographic games like these being published. Maybe not when compared to consumer games, but there are still a lot, and it creeps me out...because I don't know why. What's the big attraction?
Uro: Because it's a springboard for many things that would never appear in consumer games.
Nasu: I do think there are a lot of users who like these games because they can enjoy a totally different type of game than their typical consumer games. But now I'm starting to see less and less of the types of games that I actually like. I start to think there's no demand for them anymore.
Q: Pornographic games stimulate lust...is stimulating lust the same thing as stimulating the imagination? In regard to "moe" games, is that the only thing that separates them from consumer games?
Uro: Well, with erotic games, they're made with the foresight that they're going to make the users fantasize no matter what.
Nasu: 5 or 6 games come out a week, so I think a lot of people shy away from them as games that require a lot of stamina to keep up with. Personally, though, I'd like to enjoy a brand-new game within one or two days, in a short time period...that's why I love Kikokugai. (laughs)
Uro: Hahaha! (laughs) You know, since I make a living off making games, I've completely lost my idea of how many hours of gameplay = satisfaction. I spend dozens of hours on action games, so... (laughs)
Nasu: I think you pretty much have to go to consumers with an action game for it to survive, don't you think? Because PC users want these erotic games that they can enjoy within a short time span, get through quickly, and find something to "moe" about. They're looking for a more compact experience.
Uro: I thought Daiakuji would change the erotic game world, but they still keep coming out day after day...so it's like nothing's really changed. (laughs)
Nasu: I don't think typical studios possess the stamina it takes to create a game like Daiakuji...we adults don't have the time we used to, you know? University students, now they have a lot of time on their hands, so their perspective changes. Since they have so much time, they may prefer games that they can enjoy for longer...which will survive? (laughs)
Uro: Full-time workers and university students do use their time quite differently.
Nasu: We usually get home around 9 or 10 PM...once we eat and take a shower, we only have about two hours to play games...and if I had two hours, then I'd play Devil May Cry. (laughs)
Uro: "Hahahaha!" (laughs)
Q: Sim games these days truly take hours upon hours to complete. Once people grow up and get jobs, they find that they don't have the time to really play through games anymore...
Nasu: Although, when I buy games and see "takes 100 hours to complete" on the box, I think "Wow, so I get to play it for 100 hours!"
Uro: Where do you squeeze out 100 hours from?! (laughs) I don't think games can sell solely on hours of gameplay like they used to be able to...
Nasu: I think more and more people will start to want more from the graphics side. Like, 100 CGs won't be enough...really? Is that really not enough? (laughs) I think the new average level will become something like 100~150 CGs...I mean, look at how much they're charging for a game! 8,800 yen! I think I may be digging my own grave with this comment. (laughs) Takeuchi-kun's gonna kill me. (laughs)
Uro: I've been hearing that a lot, actually. And things like "What constitutes the 8800 yen price tag?"
Nasu: If everyone would approve of it from a business perspective, I'd like to price our games at 8,800 yen too. As long as we don't spend money on other things, though, (like advertising, etc.) then I think we can price them cheaper.
Uro: You know, I think, completely unrelated to business, that we just need money. We have a bond of trust between the creative people and the management people in my company, so we can both focus on our separate roles. It really helps. If we were both poking our noses in the other's business, things just wouldn't work out. Especially me.
Q: Is that the biggest difference between normal business and the doujin world?
Nasu: Working as a team means that everyone needs to understand that the company is the crux of everything. Without that, it's just for fun. But if people don't work seriously, then no profit will come in. I really think that it's the great companies out there who have good relationships between the creative and business sides.
Q: From a solely game creation perspective, what are the big differences and limitations between the doujin and business worlds?
Nasu: Doujin games don't get caught up in planning or by company things. In short, they can do whatever they want...I suppose. The only problem, I guess, would be freedom of expression, whether or not it would be something that would involve the EOCS (Ethics Organization of Computer Software)...generally, though, they can let their imaginations run loose. I think the rest of the differences would be on a technological/sales level. I think one of the biggest differences is that with doujin games, people sort of buy them for fun. It's a place where you can put out a soft, weaker game and not really be scolded for it. That's what it means to be doujin.
Q: And you, Urobuchi-san?
Uro: Well, I put out doujin games from a company, so... (laughs)
Nasu: Hahaha! (laughs)
Uro: It took some dodgy political dealings for me to get into this situation, though... (laughs) It's all about bargaining tactics. How comfortable a creative zone I can get for myself. That's why I need to be cold about my own works at certain points. If I cut this off, then it'll help this other aspect come to life. I calculate it like that. As the commander, I always focus on how to achieve victory under the conditions I've been dealt. Which is the victory method that takes the least amount of casualties...one's wallet really has nothing to do with creativity, which is sad in a way. (laughs) Yes, it's very sad.
Q: Finally, do you have any messages for your fans?
Uro: Hmm. To be honest, I expected to hear people say "Your career ended with Kikokugai, but if people will really enjoy this new stuff I'm putting out...then I'll keep on doing it! (laughs)
Nasu: Yes, please continue.
Uro: If they'll appreciate me, then I'll keep going on forever. Uwahh...listen to how shameless I sound. (laughs)
Nasu: I also thought Tsukihime had a lot of problems, but was surprised to see how much people enjoyed it, so I thought 'well, maybe I'll just do as I please from here on out.' (laughs) Seriously, though, I want to try and keep my unique rhythm while aiming for a better product that will grab a wider audience. I want to try and be true to the old saying that "the third one is always better than the second." So I hope people are excited... (laughs)
Uro: So you aren't going to say anything about future releases? (laughs)
Nasu: Ummm... (He throws out some considerations.) Cut that part! (laughs)
All: (Loud laughter)
Recorded on April 26, 2002, in Hiyokoya, Akihabara.