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Straight Shooting with Game Creator Suda51

by Jean-Karlo Lemus,

Headshot provided by MomoCon
The renowned Suda51 has been responsible for countless cult-favorite video games. From the psychedelia of Killer7 to the hells of Shadows of the Damned, from the sunny streets of Santa Destroy in No More Heroes to the blood-soaked setting of the upcoming Hotel Barcelona, Suda51's combination of Japanese media with grindhouse film through the lens of Americana has captivated fans for years. Before his upcoming appearance as a keynote speaker at MomoCon 2024, we were fortunate enough to sit down with Suda51 and probe his mind about his career, his thoughts on the industry, and some of his upcoming titles. We didn't even get blood on our hands doing it!

What has been the most significant change you've witnessed in the video game industry throughout your career?

Suda51: That's tough... technology-wise, I feel like the 2D/pixel era was relatively short, but the jump from 2D/pixel graphics to polygons was pretty huge. Another change – this wasn't directly or solely game industry-related, as it affected everyone around the world, but – the COVID pandemic also brought a huge change to the industry. We used to go to game and industry events worldwide, but that all ended abruptly, and everything changed – so many companies started working remotely, events were canceled and scaled down, etc., and many of those effects remain. I'd say that the most significant change I can think of would probably be Sega's withdrawal from the console market. Nintendo and Sega used to be the Big Two back in the day, then Sony got in the game, and it was Nintendo/Sega/Sony for a while, and then Sega left, Microsoft jumped in as well, and now it's Nintendo/Sony/Microsoft as far as consoles go. I think that change had a tremendous impact on the industry.

With Shadows of the Damned: Hella Remastered on the horizon, how do you think modern audiences will react to the game compared to its original 2011 release?

Suda51: Back in 2011, indie games weren't a "thing" like they are now, so people didn't have the chance to try out new, unique styles of games as much as we do these days, and it was harder to get people to give something different a chance. Nowadays, there are all sorts of cool and unique games on the market, and players are somewhat more inclined to try new things. I think Shadows of the Damned was pretty new and exciting back when it came out for both veteran and newer players alike, but it never became a huge hit or anything, so now, over a decade later, hopefully, more people will be open to checking it out as a "new" kind of game.

Shadows of the Damned

The game industry has become far riskier than ever, with major releases struggling with razor-thin profit margins. How have you adapted to this new, more difficult market?

Suda51: I get asked this pretty much every year. I'm always told things are harder and riskier, and while that's true, I try not to think about it much. I just don't have any intention of going hardcore on the marketing or making games specifically to have a broader appeal to more people; I just want to make "Grasshopper games" – the kind of games I want to make and the kind we at Grasshopper and our fans want to play. I believe that if you make a good game, then gamers will go for it. I believe in our fans all around the world and want to continue making games for them.

The 'punk' sensibilities in your games are all about pushing the envelope and testing taboos or limits. Where do you feel your limits lay?

Suda51: I try to be true to what pops up in my head and what I want to express, but I probably do sort of subconsciously limit myself. So because of that, the things I normally wouldn't do simply don't come up – for example, things dealing with religion, hardcore/overly sexualized content, etc. For sexual content, I prefer to focus on things like true/more "natural" love, although this may sometimes be expressed in a somewhat extreme manner... This is a pretty hard question.

Hotel Barcelona

Hotel Barcelona is positively dripping with grindhouse charm, with references to films like Annabelle or Friday the 13th. But what was the inspiration for the title, "Hotel Barcelona"?

Suda51: Swery and I just came up with it while talking to each other. We wanted to make a game set in a hotel from the beginning. We had gone to an event called Reboot out in the mountains in Canada, to this big hotel just before, and it was really scary at night – like the kind of place where you might expect ghosts to appear from the dark forest nearby. That hotel and the area left a lasting impression on us, and that's where the "hotel" idea came from. In the game, the story is that somewhere in the American Northwest, there is a hotel owner who wants to set his hotel up like a "Barcelona-style" resort, which is where the name came from.

Do you ruminate on your games after you've finished them? Or do you focus on new projects after each one is finished?

Suda51: I worked as basically an indie developer for a long time, so I got used to always having to lock down our next project before finishing the one we're currently working on, and before a project is finished I also have to deal with bugs and all sorts of things like that, so I'm generally swamped but constantly thinking about the next thing. After we submit the master for a game, sometimes it wouldn't come out for like six months or more, so there were times when I'd have almost forgotten about the last game I worked on and was like, "Oh wow, hey, look, that game finally got released!" Nowadays, we have social media everywhere, but back then, it was a lot harder to get info from overseas, apart from info we'd get directly from the publisher, so we wouldn't usually have much information regarding how the game was selling, how people reacted to it, etc., once a game was finished and released, so I wouldn't bother ruminating on my just-finished projects much. That stuck with me as a habit, so yeah, I'm usually only thinking about whatever my next project is as opposed to thinking back on what I just made.

I understand that Quentin Tarantino is one of your major influences. Tarantino has worked hard on what he wishes to be his tenth and final film. Do you think you'll ever make your "final" work? Or do you think you'll continue to create for the rest of your life?

Suda51: Definitely the latter. I've spoken about this in interviews before, but I plan to keep creating games for the rest of my life. I have no plans to retire.

What movies or TV shows have you been enjoying lately? What aspects of them do you find speaking to your creative sensibilities?

Suda51: As for movies, the most recent example would be The Iron Claw, about the Von Erich family of pro wrestlers. I watched these guys wrestle in real-time back in the day – both in Japan and overseas (when their matches were broadcast on Japanese TV), and the story of this "cursed family" really stuck in my memory. The movie answered lots of questions I'd had, which was really cool. I've also always wanted to make my own "pro wrestler road movie"-style game, too, so this movie spoke to me.

As for TV shows, 3 Body Problem. I watched both the Tencent and Netflix versions; I felt the Tencent version was closer to what I had pictured inside my head, but both versions were really cool, and it was fun to compare them, like, "Oh, so this is how they portrayed this scene, or this theme, in the Western version," and "I wonder why they decided to do this scene this way?", etc. They were both lots of fun. They're not done yet, though, as both versions have a Season 2 coming, so I'm really looking forward to the finales – not just as a creator, but simply as someone who likes good, well-made entertainment and who likes to be able to continue watching (as opposed to one-and-done shows). There's also the anime called Demon Slayer. This show keeps on getting me excited! How is it still so fun to watch this cool anime even though I've already read the original manga?!

Garcia Hotspur and his shapeshifting partner, Johnson, as seen in Shadows of the Damned: Hella Remastered

Do you have any final words for your fans in America?

Suda51: We're currently working on a new title, so I hope you all look forward to that. Also, Shadows of the Damned: Hella Remastered – the remastered version of a Grasshopper title from over a decade ago – is coming out soon, and it's an awesome game, so please be sure to check that out, too. But seriously, this new game we're working on now is gonna be awesome."

Thank you to Suda51 for taking the time to answer our questions! Readers can look forward to Suda51's keynote address at MomoCon 2024. Thank you to MomoCon for helping organize this interview.

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