SUDA51 on His Dream Game, Punk Misunderstandings, and the Shadows of the Damned Remaster

Games Features Grasshopper Manufacture
SUDA51 on His Dream Game, Punk Misunderstandings, and the Shadows of the Damned Remaster

Over his several-decade career, SUDA51 has built up a reputation as one of the most distinctive voices in gaming. From the medium-bashing satire of No More Heroes to the sleek intrigue of Killer 7, there is a particular flair to his and Grasshopper Manufacture’s work, where crass humor meets surprisingly thoughtful meta-commentary on the form. We had a chance to meet with Suda at PAX East, where he was promoting Shadows of the Damned: Hella Remastered, an upcoming re-release of that game for modern consoles (for those curious, as the name suggests, this is a remaster and not a full remake).

Paste: As a creator, do you feel it’s more difficult to get ideas greenlit in today’s game industry than in the past?

SUDA51: It’s not really so much a generational thing or an era-based thing, it’s more of a publisher-by-publisher thing. Every publisher has their own rules, their own standards and policies. It all depends on who you’re dealing with and what you’re trying to put out. I personally don’t feel that there’s much difference between now and years ago as far as what you can or can’t do.

Paste: If you had infinite resources, what style of game would you make?

SUDA51: [He points at the Qiddiya Gaming booth behind us, which is a tourism ad funded by the Saudi Arabian government] Like you have the Saudi money? [Laughter]

Paste: Right, except without the moral compunctions.

SUDA51: That’s one of the hardest questions that I get. I don’t have a concrete idea, but it would be something set in space. Something like a Starfield-type thing. I’m a big fan of Gundam. If I had the freedom to do whatever I wanted, it wouldn’t necessarily be a licensed Gundam game but my own original version. I’m a big fan of that series in particular, but also that genre in general, so that’s likely what I’d do if I could make anything I wanted.

Paste: Is there an element of your work that you feel is generally misunderstood or misinterpreted?

SUDA51: I can’t really think of anything like themes or other elements of my games that people tend to misunderstand a lot, at least as far as I know. But in a way, it’s kind of interesting because I feel that a lot of the time, people can seem to, I guess you could say, over-interpret?

A lot of the fans are really hardcore gamers and fans, and they play our games a bunch of times and look at all the little details, right? And they come up with their own interpretations of things. They even come up with their own head lore sometimes. And so not to say that they’re misinterpreting or misunderstanding anything, and not to say this is at all negative. But sometimes they see things that weren’t necessarily intended to begin with or things that are a bit more vague, but they decide, “This must be what this means.” But, again, that’s not necessarily a negative thing at all because it shows that they’re thinking really hard about the work that we’re making, which is great.

There have been times in the past where people complained about certain elements of the games, for example, that this game is a bit too sexual or that certain characters are too sexualized, or something like that. Going back to the publisher thing we were talking about earlier, some publishers are okay with certain amounts of that kind of content, and it changes based on what publisher you’re going with and the thing you’re making.

Sometimes we’ll decide, “Okay, this is what we want to do with this,” and they’ll tell us, “You need to tone that down a bit,” or conversely, “Okay, that’s more than fine, you can even take it a little further if you want.” And we’ll put the game out, and people will complain that it takes it a bit too far. I wouldn’t go as far as to say I regret any of the choices I made in those games, but it does make me think a bit harder about being more careful in the future and handling things like that with a bit more sensitivity.

Paste:  Do you ever feel like publishers expect certain things from you and mandate what’s in the games?

SUDA51: [Suda points at the looming Shadows of the Damned display behind us, and we laugh] It’s pretty well-publicized there was a lot of back and forth about what can and can’t be done and what won’t get done on that game [Shadows of the Damned]. But, it was, how do you put it, not necessarily shocking, but a really stimulating experience, an eye-opening experience. But there were a lot of those things you mentioned with that game in particular.

Paste: Related to that, looking back at Shadows of the Damned more than 10 years later, how do you feel about the game now? There were interviews at the time with your co-lead on the project, Shinji Mikami, where he said you were disappointed with it, so I’m curious how you feel in retrospect.

SUDA51: It’s a good question. It’s kind of difficult to put into exact words. But as I mentioned earlier, there was a lot of stuff that went on when making the original. The game that we started out making was very different from the game that it became in the end. And again, as I mentioned earlier, it was really kind of an eye-opening experience making the game. There were a lot of hardships and a lot of things that were kind of rough to deal with. A lot of first experiences happened at that time. For example, dealing with EA and the way they do things compared to the way I was used to doing things or dealing directly with the Western market for the first time. There were a lot of things about the Western market that they didn’t fully understand then.

So yeah, it definitely was a game that helped up Grasshopper’s game as a studio, and that helped us get more of a foot in the door while also helping us build up some skills that we maybe didn’t have. There were a lot of complicated feelings and thoughts that went into the game, which came out afterward. In the end, though, it’s kind of like my child, right? It might be a bit of a fuckup problem child, but you love them all the same. [Laughter] That’s still your kid.

I’ve actually been wanting to bring it back for modern audiences for a long time. There are a lot of things in the game that I feel may actually fit better with the current market than it did thirteen or fourteen years ago when it came out. And I’m really happy that we’re finally able to do that and get people who didn’t play it before to play it now on current platforms. There was a lot that went on to do it, but it is one of my babies, and I am proud of it and happy with how it turned out.

Paste: I’m not asking for an official confirmation, but I’m curious if you view this remaster as testing the waters for potentially returning to this world in the future?

SUDA51: It’s something that I’m thinking about, yeah. For example, I actually considered putting the game’s main bad guy, Fleming, into No More Heroes 3. No promises, but that’s definitely something that’s being considered, and we’ll see how it works out.

Paste: My understanding is that some of the people on the development team for Shadows of the Damned compared you and Shinji Mikami to the main duo in the game, Garcia and Johnson. I’m curious: who do you think is who in this scenario?

SUDA51: [Laughter] Yeah, so Garcia and Johnson, they’re kind of on a road trip together. When Mikami and I were coming up with the game and making it, we were basically on one big literal and figurative road trip together. So, a lot of that relationship is reflected in Garcia and Johnson. But if I had to put a name on who would be who, thinking about it, Mikami is basically constantly telling jokes and saying funny shit. So, if I had to say I’m this one and he’s this one, I’d probably consider Mikami to be Johnson, and just because of that, for me to be Garcia.

Paste: In the past, you’ve described your work as punk. Is that something you still set out to do with each game, and do you think your work still embodies that ideal?

SUDA51: Actually, for the whole punk thing, that came about because one time, way back in the day, I used the words, “punks not dead.” Then that just kind of took on a life of its own. So, people were like, “Grasshopper is punk, SUDA51 is punk,” you know? And to be honest, I don’t really consider that or keep it in mind while making games necessarily. I wouldn’t necessarily say that the games are punk or that I’m going for a punk vibe.

But as far as trying something new, we’re just trying to do something that other people aren’t doing or wouldn’t do and trying to push boundaries. By that meaning, that part of the punk aspect is definitely something I’ve been doing since I started making games and is part of my process for making games. As far as that meaning is concerned, I’d say that’s still alive and well. Not necessarily the music or the aesthetic version of punk, it really had nothing to do with that. That took on a life of its own and spread somehow.

Paste: Yeah, that seems like the kind of thing that gets repeated on forum posts without context until everyone on the internet just sort of believes it’s true.

SUDA51: I’m actually glad that kind of happened the way it did, though. Considering the term punk to mean what I was talking about, doing original things and pushing boundaries, that’s basically what we’re trying to do. I don’t really have a problem with people considering me and Grasshopper punk; it worked out for us in the end.

Paste: What part of the creative process do you enjoy the most?

SUDA51: The part I like the best and the most fun part of the creative process is the beginning, when you’re coming up with original ideas and discussing them with your buddies and teammates. When it comes to putting it all down on paper and then making the actual game, that’s the really hard part. But just sitting around and thinking stuff out and building out this world, this idea, and fleshing it out, that’s got to be the most fun part of the whole creative process.

Paste: And related to that, is there a game where you particularly fondly look back at its development? Not necessarily your favorite game you worked on, but the one where you had the most fun making it?

SUDA51: [He thinks for a long time.] It’s basically nothing but hardships so far, so I’m trying to think of something good. [Laughter]. The general scale was relatively small so that probably has something to do with it, but it was probably Liberation Maiden. That was really fun to make. The game itself was relatively small; it was part of the Guild01 compilation that Level-5 put out at the time. The team making the game was also relatively small, with just a few people on it. And I just had a great time making it and putting it together. There wasn’t a lot of hardship or a lot of bullshit, you know, it was just a fun time making that game.

Elijah Gonzalez is an assistant Games and TV Editor for Paste Magazine. In addition to playing and watching the latest on the small screen, he also loves film, creating large lists of media he’ll probably never actually get to, and dreaming of the day he finally gets through all the Like a Dragon games. You can follow him on Twitter @eli_gonzalez11.

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