Last week’s issue of Weekly Famitsu had the first in a series of regular columns by Kazutaka Kodaka. For those who aren’t aware, he’s Dangan Ronpa’s writer and co-creator, and often acts as the franchise’s public face. Here’s a translation.
From Weekly Famitsu 2014/8/21-28 (Published 2014/8/7)
Total Despair Kodaka #1
Hi. My name’s Kazutaka Kodaka, and I’m the person in charge of the Dangan Ronpa series story and design. It’s an honor being asked to write a column for the legendary Famitsu magazine! Thank you very much! It’s already one of the high points of my life! I’m sure that in a few dozen years I will turn back to these columns repeatedly, soaking in memories as I sit there in the local park, a bottle of sake that I picked up from a garbage can in my hand.
Well, then. That may be where my life is heading, but it’s a life that’s been greatly influenced by video games. In today’s column I would like to introduce myself by looking back on my life and the games that influenced it.
The first game that changed my life was the Sega Megadrive (Genesis to you silly Americans —OR), which I encountered when I was in junior high. At the time my life was driven by a great sense of solidarity and was consumed by the Famicom craze that swept Japan, and so I was buying only the big hits that everyone else was also playing. An unsophisticated lad, I was. It was my cousin who introduced me to the existence of the enthusiast machine that was the Megadrive. He was the subject of my admiration at the time: a stylish guy with all sorts of electricity discharging artful objects decorating his room. That machine he showed me, a pitch-black body with the letters “16 BIT” engraved on it in gold, was burned into my mind as the unparalleled cool thing of the generation. From that moment my path in life was utterly changed into that of an outlaw Megadriver, to the tune of “This is so much better than a Super Famicom!”. (Later, I shamelessly bought a Super Famicom when Street Fighter 2 was released). And thus, my sense of what’s important was turned around by the Megadrive. Now I was sure that “Cool” was that which most people didn’t do, and even my taste in music and manga turned to the obscure enthusiast stuff.
Moving on to my high school years. Next-gen machines were being released in succession, starting with the Playstation. The games of the era were brimming with a sophisticated cultural sense. The Virtual Boy was sold in fashion shops, game soundtracks were sold in trendy Shibuya record stores, and game creators like Kenji Eno were picked up by all kinds of media outlets. (Incidentally, the first next-gen game I ever bought was Tomb Raider, with the original Lara Croft panting and breathing loudly throughout. Years later I heard from Megumi Ogata, Dangan Ronpa’s Makoto Naegi, that she was the actress voicing Lara at the time. I was astounded (in a good way)).
At the time, it never even crossed my mind that I would once enter the game industry. I was into movies and studied film at college, planning to become a director. Still, since I was much too fervent in my studies and never once tried looking for a job, I was stuck without one after graduation. Then, when I went crying to one of my professors, he introduced me to a certain game company who was looking for people knowledgable in both film and games. The company was called Flagship, and was a subsidiary of Capcom. (Most Capcom employees make a weird face when I tell them about my past at Flagship. If you want to know the reason, go ask your local Capcom employee).
The first game I was involved with at Flagship was Clock Tower 3. The game was attracting attention because of the involvement of legendary film director Kinji Fukasaku with its cut scenes. Mr. Fukasaku didn’t care that it was a game he was working on, and stuck to his regular methods. Even scenes that were planned to end up as CGI got most of the same treatment as any film: he built humongous sets, made real actors perform on them, and filmed them with a real camera. I was employed on the set as an assistant director (that is, an errand boy), but… Fukasaku’s company was known throughout the entertainment business as being extremely rigorous, to the point of making fun of the kanji that make up his name, “Deep” and “Work”: “The company that makes you Work Deep into the night”, they called it. After a few months of filming I was completely exhausted, grew weary of both the game and film businesses, and fled the company.
After that I kept to a single mantra - “I want to create my own work!”, and went on filming my own independent films while working part time. I spent many unhappy days working on game script jobs introduced to me by industry friends.
It was at that time that I encountered the two games that changed my view on what video games can do. The games were Illbleed and Conker: Live & Reloaded. The thing that surprised me when I played them was the amount of freedom they displayed. To be honest, both have many shortcomings as games. Still, I felt that their originality was sublime. Inspired by the freedom I started feeling video games allowed, I got it into my head that if I want to make something original it had to be a game. And so, I started a job hunt at game companies. My goal was to make my own game, and by a stroke of good luck I sneaked my way not into a large company, but into the middle-sized, shoddy-looking Spike (That’s just what I thought back then! It really isn’t a shoddy company at all!). A few years later, I encountered the game that — and that’s not an exaggeration — changed my life the most… That would be Dangan Ronpa, of course. How did Dangan Ronpa affect my life? There’s not enough space left for that story, so we’ll leave it for another time.
Instead, a little about the future.
My goal now is to make games that will change the people’s life and sense of values, just like games did for me. Ultimately, it would be nice if a few dozen years from now some young fellow inspired by my games to become a game creator himself, would hand me a bottle of sake and tell me all about it as I loiter in the local park.