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Life is your very own role-playing game Interview with Dragon Quest Creator Yuji Horii (Part 2)

This is part 2 of Waseda University students’ interview with Yuji Horii, father of the beloved Dragon Quest video game series. This part traces Horii’s path after graduation from freelance writer to video game designer and is filled with interesting episodes from Dragon Quest’s development. “Life is a form of role-playing” is just one thought-provoking quote from Horii. Not just some superficial phrase, this statement carries weight because it comes from the legendary creator of a beloved RPG franchise whose path in life cannot simply be “role-played” by someone else. This interview provides an abundance of hints on how to make it in life, including memorable excerpts such as “You are the main character in life,” “Experience shapes the future,” and “Scenarios are to be created.”

 

(Caption) From left: Daichi Ishida (second-year student at School of Advanced Science and Engineering and vice director of Waseda Computer Entertainment WCE) and Keita Ishihara (third-year student at School of Fundamental Science and Engineering and director of Waseda Computer Entertainment)

 

1.The transition from aspiring manga artist to writer made that masterpiece a possibility

 

Ishida

After transitioning from aspiring manga artist to writer, how did you end up becoming a game designer?

 

Horii

When I was 27 years old I came across an article titled “From here on out its microcomputers!” (Microcomputers refer to computer systems and processors equipped with integrated circuits) which inspired me to go out and buy a computer. While playing games like Nobunaga’s Ambition and Star Trek I came up with the idea of creating my own old-school computer games and having my friends play them.

 

Uchino

Were you doing that just as a hobby?

 

Horii

That’s right. At that time I was reporting on a game program contest hosted by Enix and decided to submit a tennis game I had made. When I went to the awards ceremony I discovered that my game had been selected. There I met Koichi Nakamura, current President of video game developer Chunsoft, and together we went on to create Dragon Quest. That was over 30 years ago..

 

Mukoyama

Throughout that process, were there experiences from your time as a university student that were put to use?

 

Horii

My experiences drawing manga are very much linked to Doragon Quest. Pushing along a scenario with text alone that is easy-to-read, entertaining, and as short as possible is essentially the same way manga artists use speech bubbles. Learning how to develop each conversation without dragging down the overall experience is something I learned from manga.

 

(Caption) From left: Mizuho Uchino (third-year student at School of Humanities and Social Sciences and in charge of Man-ken general affairs) and Wataru Mukoyama (third-year student at School of Commerce and Manga-ken director)

 

Uchino

I love the catch phrase for Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King. Were phrases like “a world as far as the eye can see” your idea?

 

Horii

That’s right. My experience as a writer served me well. Now that I think about it, I think the catch phrase for Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past’s original release, “People can become someone (hito wa dare ka ni nareru),” best represents the spirit of Dragon Quest.

 

Uchino

Each iteration in the Dragon Quest series introduces new ideas, which makes me wonder, do you like to jot down notes?

 

Horii

Actually, I don’t. Surprisingly, I like to think “in the moment” [laughing]. I write scenarios pretty quickly, but it takes me a while to build up the motivation required to start. Even when I think, “Alright, let’s write!” sometimes I will space out for five hours before I actually start writing [laughing].

 

Ishida

Around how long does it take to write the scenario for a game?

 

Horii

Games are packed with scenarios nowadays so it takes around a year even with the help of staff members. In earlier games it was much faster. The original Dragon Quest took about one month.

 

Ishida

Did the lack of memory available for early computer games and the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) present limitations for in-game text?

 

Horii

Yes. For that reason we cut out a lot of text. For my first game, Portopia Serial Murder Case, we could only use 32KB. I removed particles and made phrases more compact. This smoothed out the text and upped its tempo. It was tough, but this process helped me when I was coming up with entertaining lines for Dragon Quest.

 

2.Players get excited over “first” experiences Horii’s way of creating dramatic experiences.

 

Ishihara

As I listen to you speak, I get the feeling that everything you experienced as a student is connected to what you do now.

 

Horii

Yes, I am fortunate. I began making games just as computers were starting to be made. We were able to actualize various ideas as technology improved. This can be seen in Dragon Quest. While Dragon Quest I contained the essence of role-playing games, thanks to technological advancements and increases in memory we were able to implement multiplayer in Dragon Quest Ⅱ<em>: Luminaries of the Legendary Line and introduce a job system in Dragon Quest III: The Seeds of Salvation. Then in Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen we divided the scenario into chapters and in Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King created a 3D world as far as the eye could see. This may be obvious now, but 2004 was a turning point for games.

 

Ishihara

You were constantly pushing the medium forward. How do you feel about the current video game development environment where anyone can use a computer to create a game and present it to the world?.

 

Horii

Although there are many opportunities to present games, it’s difficult for them to get attention. How many people are working on one game at Waseda Computer Entertainment (WCE)?

 

Ishihara

A team of three people – one programmer, one graphic artist, and one sound designer –make one game per year. However, we haven’t made any groundbreaking games. I feel like many of the interesting ideas have already been fully explored by you and other game designers.

 

Horii

Seemingly anything is possible now, which makes it necessary to devise new ways of surprising people. Dragon Quest was the first game that allowed players to give the main character their own name and have other characters call them by that name. If you can provide these new experiences players will be excited to play your game.

 

Ishida

That is certainly true and especially true for how role-playing games have been influenced by social media.

 

Horii

Yes, a recent example is social media. I see Twitter and Facebooks as games. The game reacts to your actions and its okay for you to lie [laughing]. It is a true role-playing game. You equip your profile and set off on an adventure into the world.

 

Everyone

Woah!

 

Horii

Not only that, the fruits of your adventure impact real life. It is a really interesting game. That’s why everyone is obsessed. It would be really difficult to make a game that can compete [laughing].

 

Uchino

What kind of idea can beat social media?

 

Horii

You would need to come up with something brand new and create dramatic moments that surprise players. For example, in Dragon Quest Ⅲ , what would happen if everyone disappeared when you woke up, or if you suddenly became king? Some mischief is required [laughing].

 

Ishihara

I get the feeling that that approach is influenced by your experiences with manga. I would like to ask one more thing: What do you think of students like us who hope to become game creators?

 

Horii

I wish you all the best. It’s definitely not an easy path, but I think there are possibilities for small development teams. Small teams can create games even if they don’t have a lot of funds at their disposal.

 

Ishihara

I want to create a light virtual reality (VR) game for smartphones. What do you think about VR?

 

Horii

I am very interested. The sense of immersion is incredible. There are games that make users feel like they are in the presence of a young woman, which makes me wonder if there will be people that won’t want to come back to reality [laughing]. What kind of work do you two Man-ken members want to create?

 

Mukoyama

Right now I am more focused on reading than creating…

 

Uchino

I am working on a manga set in a world where there is only one place for books. The main character of the manga is tasked with protecting from villains books that harbor unique powers.

 

Horii

Interesting. Have you thought about collaborating with WCE to turn that idea into a game? Sounds like a good fit.

 

Ishihara

That would be great! I would love to.

 

Uchino

I would be open to that possibility.

 

3.Only you can shape the future. You are the main character in the RPG of life.

 

Ishida

Previously, we discussed the difficulties of present-day game development. What direction do you think games will go in?  

 

Horii

I am looking forward to seeing games that impact reality. Previously we talked about social media; what I would like to see are games where the act of playing connects with something in the real world and expands the player’s world or helps them grow.

 

Ishida

Did that line of thought inspire the wireless multiplayer-enabled Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies and the online game Dragon Quest X Online?  

 

Horii

That’s right, especially for IX. People would take their Nintendo DS and venture out into the city. It was a moment when the virtual encroached into reality. Dragon Quest was essentially a tool for communication. Friends shared strategies and hints with one another. That established the foundation for X. Going forward I want to make games that connect users in ways similar to social media and allow them to fully enjoy the game’s scenarios.  

 

 

Ishihara

Is that something we should expect in Dragon Quest XI which is currently in development? 

 

Horii

Yes. I think the game will surprise players. It will be a fun and innovative Dragon Quest. Please look forward to it.

 

Mukoyama

Lastly, do you have any advice for current Waseda students?

 

Horii

You all still have a lot of time ahead of you for which I am envious. Please use this time, go out and meet people, and see as many places as you can. These experiences will surely shape your future. You are the main character of your life. Life is a role-playing game, so please shape a fun future befitting its main character.  

 

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