Keita's Talk - GDC 05
Images from ImpressGameWatch Japan

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Keita started the talk with a bang - putting his companion prince puppet up on the podium. In the QA session, someone asked if it was for sale. "No," he replied."I am not selling them."

For the first few minutes he drew on the screen and discusses his nervousness about speaking, and apologized in advance for covering older material that some may have seen at the Experimental Gameplay Workshop. He also thanked the EGW for asking him to present at GDC 04, saying that this was instrumental in getting the game localized and published outside of Japan. That made me very happy.


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After all this he discussed his history at Namco, explaining that his first few years were not very successful. He worked on several projects but none of them were hits - and a few were cancelled. Bummed out, he began to wonder about his career and look for other projects. But he couldn't find any! What if he was fired??

That's when the idea of making his own game pitch came to him. He shopped his ideas around but no one was interested. Then - someone suggested he use some CG students in an internal training program to make a prototype. And so he did. The prototype demo looks a lot like the final game... an extended animatic with tons of objects and a real feel for the gameplay and story.


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In addition to talking about the gameplay in Katamari, he gives some background on the inspiration for his game - including a Japanese school game that involves pushing large balls around. Speaking with a friend later, she explained that indeed, the first time she played, she immediately remembered playing this game in school, where you roll the giant ball (for exercise and coordination, I'm guessing).

Of course he had to make jokes to get away from all that seriousness - including some silly slides about prince-person driving game. It is always odd to hear these translated talks - because a joke happens... and several seconds later, everyone erupts with laughter. It must be so strange for the speaker!


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Why did Keita want to make games at all, given how difficult it was? These slides are actually photos of his work in school. He studied to be a sculptor and made a lot of strange things - things that required interaction, and relied on humor. The first is a coffee table that transforms into a robot - tho it takes 2 to make the magic happen. The second was a hippo (we discussed this when I visited with him in Japan) that "disguised" tissues (if I'm not mistaken, this revolves around a play on words between "hippo" and "tisue"). It is so big that you can fit 4 boxes of tisues in it! Some disguise!!!


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The last thing he showed was a flowerpot goat. Water came out of its utters when the plants were sprinkled... again, a funny joke that commented on the way sculpture was used to contain or shape our experience of the world. But what good did it do?

Keita felt what I would say is a common anxiety about his art. What did it mean? What impact did it have? Why bother? The world is a terrible place full of pain, wars, death and starvation. What does art do about this? Well, he said - at least my sculptures made people smile. Perhaps, by creating game art, he could somehow reach more people - make more people smile?


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The philosophical connections between art and commerce are always hard to navigate - creator or not. I found Keita's sentiments about these subjects extremely moving. He admitted that he really doesn't play video games, and that he wonders what would happen if video games disappeared from the face of the planet. Would they really leave that much of a void? 

In order to have any meaning, culturally - shouldn't games be more "punk rock" or "rock and roll" - more about commentary and philosophy than distraction? If games only serve to divert us - what good are they, as art? Certainly we can do more to make them matter? 




Perhaps the key is to expand our audience - educate them so they demand better products? We could start, he suggested, by including novice-friendly slipcovers...  manuals that people can browse before purchase. You wouldn't go into a bookstore if all the books were shrinkwrapped, right? What makes games so different?

Good questions, hard questions. Hopefully he can come and speak again next year.