We were lucky enough to catch up with Masaya Matsuura, the mind behind a monochrome rabbit, a rapping dog and a new music game for iPhone, the proceeds of which will be going to charity. He talks to us about this latest work of his, why his output has moved away from Sony’s platforms, the possibilities of bringing back Vib-Ribbon to modern consoles, why rhythm action games are still in their infancy and how WINtA was inspired by the terrorist bombings of 9/11.
Xero: Could you introduce yourself to the readers of Midlife Gamer, who are you and what do you do?
Masaya Matsuura: My name is Masaya Matsuura and I am the president of NanaOn-Sha co., ltd. Managing the company, planning and producing video games, and composing and performing music are the main pillars of what I do.
X: The second question we ask each and every person we interview here at Midlife Gamer, what is your favourite beverage and what is your favourite biscuit? (called ‘cookies’ outside of the UK)
MM: Since I am Japanese, I’m not going to be picky about biscuits, but perhaps McVitie’s are my favourite although I do not see them quite as often as I used to in Japan these days. Regarding my favourite beverage, recently I’m into drinking Japanese tea at work. I enjoy the subtle taste differences resulting from how I brew my favourite tea leaves. One day, I offered a cup of tea that I brewed to one of my staff from the UK, but unfortunately he said, “I don’t like it,” so perhaps it means that I need to do a better job on brewing…
X: Your latest title – WINtA – is due out later this year. Could you tell us a bit more about the game, and how the title plays?
MM: WINtA is a rhythm game that has puzzle game elements for iPhone and iPad. On the screen, there are a group of aligned buttons and a white-shadow like box expands from the centre of the buttons to the edge and you need to tap it with accurate timing. This is how you play. Musical sounds are assigned to each button so if you don’t tap it on time, the music being played gets messy as well. An important point of WINtA is that this is part of a charity project by One Big Game. I think there will gradually be more and more variations of music and screen design too.
X: You’re developing the game with Triangle Studios for the iPhone and iPod Touch, what is it about Apple’s platform that appeals to you and are you interested in porting WINtA to other devices?
MM: The number one reason is its relative low risk and open environment. Then the next reason is that we believe that with WINtA’s bite-sized gameplay it’s feasible to make more viral buzz in a community-based platform like iPhone compared to other platforms that tend to have a more private focus.
X: A lot of your work, until the last couple of years, had been predominantly featured on Sony hardware. What were the reasons for largely moving away from the Playstation brand since Vib-Ripple in 2004?
MM: The main reason was that we couldn’t produce any successful games for PS2, which had spread to core gamers as a game console, but to casual gamers as a DVD player. We should have known better, but we were unable to fill in the gap. Regardless, it was a good opportunity to take on some fresh challenges that worked out really well for us.
X: Is this your first game developed for charitable causes, and what was it about OneBigGame’s approach to publishing that made you want to create WINtA for them?
MM: Although it was quite a while ago when OBG approached to us initially, we had been unsuccessful coming up with a thriving idea for a few years and things were not going anywhere. While we were having a tough time coming up with an idea, iPhone spread throughout the world, and the situation for the OBG project started to change. One day I happened to recall a song that I once wrote to remember the 9.11 tragedy and had not let virtually anybody listen to; this song was called, WINtA (War Is Not the Answer). I immediately told myself to make a game out of it. To me a charity is a new challenge, but I was not motivated differently in spite of the fact that money come from customers will be spent for someone else’s good. In addition, even if this is for a charity, I consider that it is no different from a regular economic activity that I make and thus I do not feel any less responsible for the project.
X: You’ve been described as the ‘godfather of music games’ and most people point to your games as really popularising the rhythm action genre. Are you proud of this accolade, and how far do you feel the genre has moved on since Parappa The Rapper launched in 1996?
MM: Whether it is called a rhythm game or music game, it does not really bother me, but at least I was able to create unprecedented success within a genre that people including Sony said was impossible to achieve before PaRappa The Rapper. This particular category of game took more than 10 years in the US and the EU to become successful and I strongly feel that music games are still like a baby needing care and encouragement.
X: It’s been a fair few years since we last saw Parappa, UmJammer Lammy, Vibri et al, are there any plans for new instalments of those titles in the near future? What about re-releases for downloadable services?
MM: A PSP version of PaRappa came out a few years back, and as for UJL, there is a PSN version but chances are that it hasn’t been released in certain parts of the EU. As far as Vib-Ribbon is concerned, due to an audio access problem, at this point in time it has not been adapted to modern standards, but there is definitely a possibility to do so.
WINtA is released later this year, for more information, check out wintagame.com