Continuing our series of BitSummit 7 Spirits interviews, we sat down with Wattam creator Keita Takahashi, whose past creations include Katamari Damacy and Noby Noby Boy, for a talk about the upcoming PlayStation 4 and PC puzzle action game.
Read our full interview below.
Gematsu: Can you talk a little bit about the inspiration behind creating Wattam?
Keita Takahashi, Creator: “That’s going to be a little bit long…”
Go for it.
Takahashi: “I was living in Japan, but then Vancouver before I moved to San Francisco. But the way I felt about Vancouver was that it was not like Japan. There are so many different races of people—Chinese, African, European, Filipino, blah blah blah, so many people who speak their own language, but in Vancouver also speak English and worked together to build something. That’s kind of important for me because in Japan so many Japanese people just speak Japanese, and I just didn’t imagine such a world and that kind of diversity. And our world has so many problems that come from the kind of differences, different perspectives, different religions, different countries, different everything… so I was thinking if we were kind of the same people, then that’s dumb, right? That’s so boring. Like the same soul, same hobby, same perspective. That’s just boring. That’s going to be a very boring world. But the differences of other issues, I was thinking I might be able to make something, like a game, where we work together and get over those differences by making something fun—which is an explosion in Wattam. So at the same time, I was with my kid, who was two years-old, playing with wooden blocks, just stacking the wooden blocks, and then he just breaks it and laughs, and I have to stack them again. Then he breaks it. So I was thinking, ‘what if the wooden blocks had AI that just stacked themselves?’ That would be good for me, so I don’t have to build the stack again. Those ideas got mixed together in my brain and I thought this might be the game… does that make sense?”
Sorta kinda, yeah.
Takahashi: “Usually I don’t get any inspirations from other games.”
Do you play a lot of other games yourself?
Do you play anything? (Laughs.) I remember reading that you’d never owned a console before you got into game development.
Takahashi: “(Laughs.) That’s not true. When I was in elementary school and middle school, I was playing video games a lot, like Famicom and Super Famicom.”
What kind of games were you playing?
Takahashi: “Pretty ordinary choices, like Mario, Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy. But I loved Namco’s old games like Dig Dug and Mappy, those were super unique games to me, so I chose Namco [when I got into game development.] But I quit of course.”
What made you leave Namco?
Takahashi: “(Laughs.) Well the old Namco was great. (Laughs.) But the Namco I joined was OK. I’m still glad they allowed me to make Katamari, that’s great, but… yeah.”
Are you a fan of the Katamari titles that came out after you left? Do you think that they captured what you tried to bring out with your original creation?
Takahashi: “I’m not a child, so I understand their business, so that’s OK to me.”
You were saying that in Wattam, every wooden block is its own individual character, and that there are apparently over 100 of them, so what was the method behind choosing which characters to create. You’ve got some weird ones in there, like poop and toilet.
Takahashi: “At first I designed the game using a physics engine. So each character has to be a simple shape—that’s the first condition. So the sushi is just a blob, right? I couldn’t make an ear because it’s too complex a shape. Even the nose is still complicated, but we needed it to make the game be more funny. The poop is also a weird shape, but I just love it.”
There’s always a reason to include poop.
Takahashi: “(Laughs.) But yeah, those are the reasons.”
Each character has their own medley or theme song, correct?
Takahashi: “Kind of yes, they have their own instrument sound. So if you pick another character, you can hear the music played by other instruments.”
Where there certain sounds you were trying to capture for each character? Like when you created the poop, why did you give the poop the sound that it has?
Takahashi: “This might not be an answer… Do you know the Tenori-on?”
I can’t say that I do.
Takahashi: “The Tenori-on… it’s kind of like a game. You can make your own music with dots. With the Tenori-on, each single dot has its own sound that looks like a puzzle. (At this point, Takahashi pulls up a photo of the Tenori-on.) I love this device. I thought, ‘what if each single dot is a person or character and has its own music or sound?’ The dots themselves look like they are making a stack or group, like Wattam. I thought if I can put this music system into the game, then that might be wonderful.”
Whose your favorite character?
Takahashi: “My favorite character… I like the meat. It’s a traditional Japanese, cartoon-ish meat. Manga niku.”
Can you tell me a little bit about the game? Is it stage-based? How does it play out?
Takahashi: “Stage-based. Unfortunately that’s the way we had to base the game.”
That doesn’t have to be unfortunate!
Takahashi: “These days, people love to play open-world.”
They’re a great value for your money, yeah, but they’re also a lot of time to dedicate to. How long would you say Wattam will take to complete one playthrough?
Takahashi: “About four or five hours, I think.”
OK, that’s a sweet spot I think. You announced Wattam in December 2014, I think, yeah?
Takahashi: “(Laughs.) Uhh, I don’t recall. (Laughs.)”
You don’t want to say it? (Laughs.)
Takahashi: “I just don’t remember the year. (Laughs.) Three or four years ago… or five. (Laughs.)”
I think it was December 2014. (Laughs.) Can you talk a bit about why development has taken such a long time?
Takahashi: “Well we were cancelled by Sony Santa Monica.”
What happened there?
Takahashi: “I don’t even know… You know, yesterday we had a stage event with Sony’s Shuhei Yoshida, and he explained a little bit. But seriously though, maybe it was just Sony’s money, financial things, so they needed to cut the external development branch.”
Hmm, yeah, I remember around the time Wattam was announced, there were also a couple of other external titles announced from Santa Monica that I think also moved to Annapurna Interactive.
Takahashi: “Yeah, Edith Finch, right.”
So how did you partner up with Annapurna?
Takahashi: “Annapurna was formed by the guys who were working at Santa Monica Studios.”
Ah, OK, so they pretty much just recruited the games that got kicked.
How has it been working under Annapurna?
Takahashi: “It’s like I’m still working with Sony. I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but.”
When I saw that you would be appearing on stage with Yoshida-san, I thought it might have been a bit awkward given that whole situation. Would you say that there is any bad blood between you two, or you and Sony?
Takahashi: “I don’t care how long it takes to finish the game, I just want to make the game good and great. So when we were making the prototype of Wattam, the Unity version was so bad, and I really wanted to upgrade the Unity version, so the cancellation gave me the chance to upgrade the engine, so I’m kind of happy about that.”
You’re still on Unity, right?
Takahashi: “Still Unity… They had a pretty big bug on PlayStation 4, which we found, but we needed to pay money to Unity to fix that bug.”
If you could go back and switch engines, would you rather use Unreal Engine?
Takahashi: “I have not played with the Unreal Engine, but I hear people say Unreal Engine is not so great for some reason, so I understand people who want to make their own engine if they have the money. That’s great. We are not so rich. We don’t have any money for that.”
Do you feel like Annapurna Interactive have given you the time or money to make Wattam what you want it to be?
Takahashi: “I think so, yeah.”
Getting back to the game itself, it’s a puzzle game basically, right, so you’re—
Takahashi: “Well, it’s not only puzzle. There is action, adventure.”
Well I mean in the end, you’re solving problems with all these different members of the community, so what kind of problems are players going to be solving?
Takahashi: “That would be a bit of a spoiler…”
Early in the game, maybe?
Takahashi: “Uhhh, so there are balloon people, but they have a fear of heights. But we need to go up higher for some reason, and the mayor and other people get the idea to fly up together, to grab the strings of the balloon to go fly up together, so they won’t be afraid.”
Would you say that there’s an overarching story to the game?
Are there additional elements outside of the main game planned?
Takahashi: “(Laughs.) Just the main game.”
Why’s everything funny!?
Takahashi: “Sorry. (Laughs.)”
I’m a bit curious about what you’re playing now. I know you’ve said other games haven’t influenced Wattam, but what do you enjoy?
Takahashi: “I play what the kids want to play. (Laughs.) Like Mario, Mario Tennis, Mario Kart, everything is Mario.”
Do you enjoy them? Which is your favorite Mario in recent years?
Takahashi: “In recent years? Mario Tennis… Before, I used Pikmin and football games to explain Wattam‘s gameplay. Because in a football game, you can switch between all players. And I like Pikmin‘s idea, but you cannot control every single Pikmin. It’s almost like the Pikmin are slaves. They should have personalities and names, but the Pikmin just get orders from the player and do it. That’s so sad. I don’t like that.”
I think you’ve previously mentioned not making enough people happy with your games. Do you feel like that will change with Wattam?
Takahashi: “I don’t know. I just don’t want to be a stupid person. I don’t have any confidence in myself.”
Takahashi: “I don’t like being like, ‘Hey! My game is awesome, right!?’ I want to be modest.”
Is there a certain amount of people you’re trying to reach with your games? Or will you always just feel you haven’t made enough people happy?
Takahashi: “Extremely, I would say, I don’t care what the player thinks about my game. I just want to make a video game that I like.”
Do you get feedback on your games?
Takahashi: “When I was making Katamari, there was no play tests, just QA people in Namco that played it for debugging. Noby Noby Boy, too. That’s a kind of surprising culture gap, or policy. When I’m making Wattam, the company wants people to play test… a lot, which I don’t like.”
How did you take to that? Did you fight against it?
Takahashi: “Yeah, I just get grumpy. But I need to do that, I guess.”
What do you do with the feedback you get? Do you agree with it all?
Takahashi: “Some of the feedback, yeah, I understand what they’re saying. But almost all the rest, I just don’t like it.”
What kind of feedback would you say is incorrect feedback? Maybe something that you’ve come across.
Takahashi: “So we’re using the right stick to select the people. That is the biggest difference from the other games. But Annapurna wanted me to change the control scheme, but I really hated that. Like why not? So I fought, and then finally I won. Like, that’s super stupid, right? Whyyyy?”
This is actually coming out this year, right?
Takahashi: “Yes, promise. (Laughs.)”
When this year?
Takahashi: “Somewhere between now and the end of the year.”
You haven’t announced a more specific season right?
Takahashi: “Summer or fall.”
Ah, OK, that narrows it down to the only two remaining seasons of the year. (Laughs.) Are there any final words you want to share before we go?
Takahashi: “(Laughs.) No, no… what do you think?”
I don’t know, they’re not my words!
(Laughs.) Alright then! Thank you for your time, Takahashi-san!