Iwata Asks #14: Hatsune Miku and Future Stars: Project mirai

This was one of the few Iwata Asks sessions that ended up never officially translated, mainly because the game that eventually made it to the West (Project Mirai DX) is very different from the game that was being discussed in the interview. I took the liberty of translating it, both for the benefit of Vocaloid (and SEGA’s Miku Project game series) fans and in honor of the late President Iwata, who is dearly missed even now.


社長が訊く『ニンテンドー3DS』ソフトメーカークリエーター 篇
Hiroshi Utsumi1
SEGA Games Co., Ltd
Domestic Region General Headquarters
CS Marketing Division
PM First Team Project Manager

Motoshi Takabe
SEGA Games Co., Ltd
Development and Manufacturing General Headquarters
Second Research & Development General Headquarters
Director

Makoto Osaki
SEGA Games Co., Ltd
Development and Manufacturing General Headquarters
Second Research & Development General Headquarters
Second Development Section, Section Manager

Satoru Iwata
Nintendo Co., Ltd.
President

1. AM2 Lab

Iwata: For today’s Iwata’s Asks, we’ve invited three people from SEGA (*2) to talk about Hatsune Miku: Project mirai (*1). Thank you for coming.

  • (*1) Hatsune Miku: Project mirai = Hatsune Miku and Future Stars: Project mirai. “Hatsune Miku” is a desktop music (DTM: a general term for music created on a computer) software developed by Crypton Future Media as the first in their Character Vocal series. Based on the voice of a pre-recorded human voice (voice actor), using “VOCALOID2” vocal library technology by Yamaha, one can create synthesized singing vocals with it.
  • (*2) SEGA = SEGA Games Co., Ltd. A game company centered in the Ota ward of Tokyo.

All: It’s good to be here.

Iwata: Please introduce yourselves and tell us who was in charge of what parts of the project.

Osaki: Sure. I’m Osaki. Since Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA Arcade (*3), I’ve…probably come to be seen as sort of the producer at this point.

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  • (*3) Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA Arcade: An arcade game released in June 2016.

Iwata: “Sort of” the producer, you say? (laughs)

Osaki: Sorry, that must sound odd. (laughs) We wanted to make this game “like the older ones”, so I was also working on-site.

Iwata: Even the producer was working on-site! I’m interested in what you have to say about making the game “like the older ones”, so I’ll ask you about that later. (laughs)

Takabe: I’m Takabe, the director. I draft proposals, give instructions on how to make the PVs, and do on-site management. I leave the money and people management to Osaki, and then play the game as much as I want. (laughs)

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Utsumi: I’m Utsumi, and I’m in charge of all projects related to Hatsune Miku. For this game, I was in charge of overall production, manufacturing, and promotion. Good to be here.

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Iwata: Thank you for coming. Osaki-san, can you tell us about how you came to work in games, what kind of things you’ve done so far, any kind of stories you have to share? And what led up to the backbone that makes up this game?

Osaki: Well, the truth is, if it hadn’t been for the PCG-1200 (*4), I probably wouldn’t have entered this industry.

Iwata: Ah…

Osaki: From HAL Laboratory (*5). (laughs)

Iwata: Not even in my wildest dreams did I imagine that something would have come from that. (laughs)

  • (*4) PCG: Short for Programmable Character Generator. It was released by HAL Laboratory as a peripheral device for Sharp Corporation’s MZ-1200 computer. By connecting the PCG to the MZ-1200, one could create pixel drawings on the computer that could normally only show letters and symbols.
  • (*5) HAL Laboratory: HAL Laboratory, Inc. A game company that worked on games such as Kirby’s Dream Land and the Super Smash Bros. series. Iwata worked there at one time.

Osaki: Well, I was in middle school at the time, and since the computer could normally only output text by itself, I would draw pixel dot pictures with the PCG-1200. I thought it was a lot of fun and thought, “I want to work in the game industry,” so this and that happened, I ended up joining SEGA, and was assigned to AM2 Lab (*6), which is in charge of commercial arcade games.

  • (*6) AM2 Lab: The shorthand name for SEGA Co., Ltd.’s Second Research & Development General Headquarters.

Iwata: AM2 Lab is responsible for Virtual Fighter (*7) and Daytona USA (*8), right? I’ve played quite a bit of Daytona USA.

  • (*7) Virtua Fighter: A competitive fighting game series that debut in arcades in 1993.
  • (*8) Daytona USA: A racing game series that debut in arcades in 1994.

Osaki: Thank you very much (laughs). After that, starting in 2009, I became involved with the Hatsune Miku project.

Iwata: At first glance Virtua Fighter and Hatsune Miku wouldn’t seem to have anything to do with each other, but Osaki-san probably has something he sees in both of them, so I would like to ask more about that in a bit. Takabe-san, if you would, please.

Takabe: I was also from that generation, and more specifically the microcomputer (*8) generation.

  • (*8) Microcomputer: A computer with a microprocessor, prior to it being called a personal computer.

Iwata: At the time we had no word for PCs, so we called them microcomputers.

Takabe: Yes. But, well, in my case, I wasn’t as interested in playing with the microcomputer as much as drawing and making 8mm movies was very fun for me. In actuality, I wanted to be a film director, so I thought, “maybe I should go into the advertising industry for that?” and started job hunting. But even when I finally got one, it still felt like a narrow entry gate, and while I was thinking “ah, this is tough,” a friend who was working for SEGA said to me, “hey, why don’t you try coming over here?” And so when I started doing some hard research into it, well, in games you can still tell stories, you can express it in images, and so for the most part it was pretty close to movies in that sense.

Iwata: The kinds of craft involved with film are certainly things that can be easily applied to games.

Takabe: Indeed. Games were starting to catch up with movies. They were both effectively occupying the same niche in my mind, so I joined SEGA with the mindset “I definitely want to try making games!” So I started getting involved in fighting games, racing games, robot games, although they all seemed to be more of the masculine sort.

Iwata: Certainly…they feel a lot more of the masculine type (laughs).

Takabe: A lot of blunt and heavy objects. Mechanical stuff, oil-scented stuff, there was a time where I basically had to draw nothing but muscles.

Iwata: I see (laughs).

Takabe: Sometimes I even ended up drawing better muscles than the character designers did (laughs). It was so much fun every day, I’d even lose track of the time. And then I was pulled aside by Osaki, and then ended up entering the world of “Hatsune Miku”, which I had been a complete stranger to. But when I got involved, I thought, “wait, this is something I really want to do?” If I could say so myself, it felt like I was exactly the right person in the right position for this. For the first time since I started off here, I thought, “huh, maybe I can do something really like a movie director for once.”

Iwata: So your experience in studying film were finally going to be put to use.

Takabe: Right. And I thought, “I can also apply all of this experience I’ve gained in other fields, too.”

Iwata: Osaki-san and Takabe-san were normally in charge of arcade games, and arcade games need to have a strong “grip” on the player. When someone puts in a 100-yen coin, they have to think “…one more!” once they’re finished. You have to adopt a certain kind of mindset when learning to develop that kind of game.

Osaki: The most vital thing about an arcade game is that you have to think, “oh, this looks cool!” “oh, I want to try touching that!” at first glance, so the first impression that you get from the game case is important.

Iwata: That’s true. For potential players, the game case is kind of like a presentation of sorts.

Osaki: Right. If the game doesn’t make you look good while playing it, you won’t want to play that game, but if it does, you’ll think “let me try it at least once.” There are a lot of different emotions that can come out of that sort of thing, so we put a lot of thought into the game case that’ll end up being the recipient of that 100-yen coin.

Takabe: I think the “grip” that Iwata-san mentioned is also important for this game. In Hatsune Miku Project mirai, there are over twenty Vocaloid song PVs, and from the 10 to 20-second mark, a whole lot comes at you at once, and we made sure to be able to grab the players’ hearts in that moment.

Iwata: I see.

Takabe: And so, just like with a game case, we thought, whenever they see it at the store, or on a TV commercial, our goal is to make everyone think, “how cute!” Our motto was “cuteness is justice.” (laughs)

Osaki: Which is the motto behind all of Miku Project, really.

Takabe: And if you’re the kind of person who thinks, “oh, I don’t like this kind of cute Miku,” it at least won’t leave a bad taste in your mouth, and you’ll start thinking “oh, but it’s so cute it really does have its own appeal,” so we paid close attention to the character models for this. We were full of that kind of enthusiasm, thinking, everything boils down to the moment of first impact…

Iwata: In that sense, it becomes very similar to the question of designing a game case.

Osaki: It does. It is very important to convey the feeling “this game will make you have a lot of fun.”

Iwata: The general image of AM2 Lab is that they make “fighting and racing games”. With that in mind, their usual image of “the team that makes men’s fighting and racing games” seems rather displaced from the image of “Hatsune Miku’s cuteness”, but there are indeed common points in how such games are made.

Osaki: Actually, Project mirai uses the same technology we always use for any kind of live performance, which is to say, it’s Virtua Fighter technology.

Iwata: Wow, really? So mirai uses Virtua Fighter technology.

Osaki: Yes. We wanted to make it have the same feel as the dance performances from Virtua Fighter, so we made the dancing stages for the PVs in the same way. Hatsune Miku’s hair moves too when she dances, so we had to simulate that as well…Most of the people who worked on it are from the same team, so, at its core, we did the same things.

社長が訊く『ニンテンドー3DS』ソフトメーカークリエーター 篇

2. Hatsune Miku, as produced by SEGA

Iwata: I’m sorry, the diversion ended up becoming quite long. Utsumi-san, how did you end up getting involved in this business?

Utsumi: I’ve always loved games since I was a child, I was an avid Famicom player. I begged my parents, “Please buy me a Famicom, I won’t go to the arcade for a while if you do!”, and then it all started from there (laughs).

Iwata: Even if you couldn’t go to the arcade, you could still play games as long as you had a Famicom.

Utsumi: Yes, indeed. And even after I became an adult, I’ve always loved games, but I started off in a completely different industry as a system engineer. But I thought, “you know, the game industry really does seem like it’d be fun,” so I studied 3D modeling and switched careers to the game industry. After that, I joined SEGA, and became a producer. In the summer of 2007, “Hatsune Miku” was released, and a month or two later, I was presented with Hatsune Miku and another IP and given the choice “which one would you like to work with?”, and I said, “I don’t know much about ‘Hatsune Miku’, so I’d like to try that one.”

Iwata: It was a time when “Hatsune Miku” was still not a very well-known presence among the world.

Utsumi: Right. I remember in DTM Magazine (*10) there was a magazine with a CD-ROM that had a trial version on it, and it was selling like hotcakes. I started from the baseline of “oh, so that person is ‘Hatsune Miku’? She must be modeled after someone, right?” and “does she use the voice of a famous singer?”

  • (*10) DTM Magazine: A monthly music magazine published by Terashima Information Planning.

Iwata: Lacking in awareness to the point of thinking things that might make some fans very upset (laughs).

Utsumi: Now they’re gonna be thinking, “oh, no, he’s an outsider…” (laughs)

Iwata: But when you think about it, while there have certainly been quite a few “virtual idols” before this, there isn’t anything that’s grown as big as this one.

Utsumi: It was perhaps just things all lining up together at the right time. We’ve come a long way from the times when a family only had one computer, and the Internet has evolved, and sites where you can post videos appeared. And for all of the people who were interested in music at that time, those who wanted to become DTMers came into contact with “Hatsune Miku”, and were inspired by that thought: “I can make whatever I want with this.”

Iwata: Right.

Utsumi: There is no detailed lore behind “Hatsune Miku”, and there’s no “right” way to portray her. You have “the cute picture on the package”, but the image of her was created with the idea of “the user comes first”. Therefore, we’ve assumed the same stance as her users, and thus we decided to make “a version of Hatsune Miku, produced by SEGA”. Then we thought about the fact there was an already existing culture for her, and how we could jump into it…and from there, we decided to make a rhythm game.

Iwata: This game in particular uses the Nendoroid (*11) designs. Was this part of your pursuit of making it “cute”?

  • (*11) Nendoroid: A super-deformed 2.5-head tall series of figurines of anime and game characters. Also abbreviated as “Nendoro”.

Utsumi: No, that wasn’t quite the case. At first we used more realistic proportions, but when we put it on the 3DS, we felt that it looked wrong…as in, “something feels off”. There was something wrong about the balance between the two screens when the 3DS was open, and Hatsune Miku wouldn’t be fully visible on the 3DS screens. And then when you put the rhythm game targets on top of that, you wouldn’t be able to have them in your proper line of sight at all. So we thought we should make her smaller, which led to “well, why don’t we make Miku super-deformed?”, which led to…”well, what about Nendoroids?”

Iwata: Ah, so the decision to make them Nendoroids came from the results of that kind of testing.

Utsumi: Right. Once we decided to make them Nendoroids, it became like a straight line to the finish. All of the production staff thought, “it’s cute, I like it!” and when you tally up the sales statistics for official “Hatsune Miku” side products, the best seller is actually our games, but the second best are the Nendoroids. So we thought, “see, it’s the best possible combination.”

Osaki: And in fact, later we ended up thinking, “why hadn’t we done this yet…” (laughs)

Iwata: Like the Egg of Columbus.

Osaki: Like that. We originally had a plan to have a 4.5-head scale Miku, but ultimately we came to the conclusion, “no, no, the Nendoroid cuteness is the best.”

Takabe: We did think at one point “since they’re going to be dancing, they should have longer limbs,” but when the characters are jumping up and down and going round and round, we also felt it was important to show off the changes in facial expression.

Iwata: You can certainly see the facial expressions quite well.

Utsumi: When you actually play it, you think, “ah, yes, this was the correct answer after all.” You can always see the facial expression clearly, and the cute facial expression has a huge impact.

Osaki: It took a long time to get the model right. A little under a year…

Utsumi: We ended up cutting it close, but it came off much like the “future” a child dreams of, where their dolls start to move and come to life. I think that aspect of it was also for the best.

社長が訊く『ニンテンドー3DS』ソフトメーカークリエーター 篇

3. “We want to create something that represents the future”

Iwata: Speaking of the word “future”, the name of this game is Project mirai2. How did you decide on this title?

Osaki: At first the title of the game wasn’t intended to be Project mirai, and we had “The Door to the Future” and “Future Gadgets”. The only thing we’d decided on at first was the “future” word.

Utsumi: The reason we focused so hard on the “future” keyword was that when I first saw the Nintendo 3DS, I had the impression that it was “a futuristic gadget”.

Iwata: So you wanted to “create something that represents the future”.

Takabe: Yes. Like the sort of future you’d see in anime, a future with a bright, shining image. Powered by the development of science, a cloudless, bright future.

Utsumi: Someone born in the 60s would think that opening a 3DS feels like opening your desk drawer and finding a time machine in there (laughs). Well, the future that was suggested back then would be exciting to even today’s kids. Like flying cars, for instance.

Osaki: Or the roads being a network of tubes.

Utsumi: In the end, we haven’t even gotten close to any of that yet…

Iwata: It’s almost to an amazing degree, how not much has actually happened at all.

Osaki: Only to the level of mobile phones. Perhaps the kind of “future” that they were thinking of back then was more like a “universal future” for all Japanese people. So we thought, maybe we should go with the kind of “future” the people of the 60s had, and proceeded with that sort of image.

Iwata: And Project mirai was conceived not only as something with the future in mind, but also something representative of “a futuristic gadget”.

Utsumi: We started off thinking about what aspects of the 3DS hardware we wanted to use. Such as AR (*12), the clock functions, the alarm functions, the gyro sensor…and so after going “I want this in here,” “I want this in here,” when we finally got to the question “so what do we do with this game”, we thought, “well, it really does have to be a rhythm game.” In the end, I see Project mirai as a sort of “game toy”.

Iwata: A “game toy”?

Utsumi: Yes. And not a “toy” in the sense of the cheap things you get at fast food shops, but a genuine “toy”. It does have the sort of extra functions that you’d associate with those kinds of bonus gift toys, but when you look at it overall, it’s actually a whole toy in itself. That’s the kind of feeling we were going for. But of course, we put our all into the actual rhythm game aspect of it.

  • (*12) AR: Short for Augmented Reality. Technology that superimposes virtual data on a real image.

Osaki: So, naturally, the word “future” came before anything else. We discussed “what would happen if you poured ‘the future’ into a 3DS?” Of course, it’s natural to play games on a 3DS, so our ideas became more along the lines of “gadgets”. So once we put those “gadgets” into our game, it in itself becomes a “gadget”. In the end, I feel like it turned out for the best. Nendoroids are things you use to decorate your desk with, so in that sense, it should be possible to always look at Miku in the same way.

Takabe: They become digital figures, essentially. And with digital figures, you can play with them every day.

Osaki: And you can use it as a clock, or as a planner.

Takabe: You could even use it as a ramen timer.

Iwata: (laughs)

Osaki: Yeah, it’ll go off after three minutes.

Takabe: It’ll go “it’s time~” (laughs).

Utsumi: People were making jokes like “it looks like she (Miku) is about to come out of the screen, but she isn’t,” so we thought we should make it look more like she’s about to come out of the screen.

Iwata: Certainly, the way you move them around makes it look like she can come out of the screen. Playing it involves not only controlling it with your hands but also leaving it on your desk with the power on.

Takabe: Right. Actually, she’ll do things even when the player isn’t around. The 3DS has a face recognition function, right? So after the player appears and then disappears in front of the camera, Miku starts walking around back and forth to see what’s going on. A lot of people asked us “how does she know whether we’re here or not?” (laughs)

Iwata: The players were also checking in on what was going on from the side (laughs).

Takabe: Right. So you can have fun thinking, “oh, I’m coming to see you!”

Osaki: The programmers understood it deeply, and were very pleased to see it in action.

Iwata: So, Project mirai was meant as a game that makes use of a whole bunch of 3DS functions, and serves as as showcase of what the 3DS can do.

Takabe: We thought along the lines of, “With a toy as fun as this, wouldn’t it be possible to do fun things with Miku culture?”, and put all sorts of things in. We were very excited to use things like StreetPass (*13), AR, and voice recognition.

  • (*13) StreetPass: A communication function that allows for exchange of data with a person passing by, as long as the system is powered on.

Iwata: So for example, what would voice recognition do?

Osaki: Firstly, you can use your voice to select a song. So if the player says what song they want to play, and they say something like “‘Aku no Musume’!”3, the list of songs will move by itself.

Takabe: The more songs you unlock, the harder it’ll become to find the one you’re looking for. But with voice recognition, you can just hit the start button and say “‘reverse rainbow’!”, and the song will suddenly start playing.

Iwata: When computers and mobile phones became able to look up things by voice, it in itself carried a strong feeling of being futuristic.

Takabe: Not only is it convenient, it’s also quite exciting.

Utsumi: But it’s not that it’s necessarily inconvenient to not have it.

Osaki: Right, it wouldn’t be a problem if you didn’t have it, but it’s “amazing”, it can even recognize what the player is saying, so it’s fine! It’s that kind of thing.

Takabe: Even though we’ve had the technology for this for quite a long time, of course.

Iwata: But a large part of it has to do with “whether this kind of technology has been used in this way before,” and that’s what makes it innovative. A long time ago, when we were working on Brain Age (*14), we surprised many people with the combination of voice recognition and handwriting recognition, but those technologies were not originally developed by Nintendo. We managed to utilize those technologies and integrate them into the DS. Even if it’s someone who’s never seen these kinds of technologies before, when you present it to them in a form they’re interested in, it has a huge impact on them.

  • (*13) Brain Age: Short for Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day!. Released as a game for the Nintendo DS in 2005.

Takabe: This game is a showcase, and there are all sorts of gimmicks in it, but the one clear theme that permeates through the game is the “core” of “the future”. “This is futuristic, that is futuristic” became a natural element of it. The core of “future” is in “Hatsune Miku” herself, so no matter how many gimmicks we put in, the foundation of the game stays solid.

Osaki: Well…when you make a game, there are times when you feel like “it’s not going well…”

Iwata: Yes. I absolutely understand, that feeling of things not going well (laughs).

Osaki: But there are also times when you can’t really tell whether it’s going well or not. You must have experienced it too, right, Iwata-san? I especially felt that way with Virtua Fighter.

Iwata: Ah, that’s when it feels whenever I make something where I don’t know exactly how it’s going to turn out. When I worked on Brain Age, there was never a point where I thought “this will work out for sure.” But we did get people saying “this is something that has never been done before,” and once we finished, people started saying “people who have never been interested in our games before may become interested.” But I was never able to know for sure.

Osaki: Right. So this product was that for us. “We don’t know how this will go.” The kind of “I don’t know” you had with Brain Age, we had a bit of that as well…

Utsumi: Is that even a fair comparison, though? (laughs)

Osaki: Well, maybe only a tenth of it…something like that. (laughs)

社長が訊く『ニンテンドー3DS』ソフトメーカークリエーター 篇

4. “Making it like the older ones”

Iwata: You spoke earlier about having “a sense of the 60s,” but some of your staff was born in the 70s, and you even get people as young as the 90s and after, so how did you work with that kind of mix of staff?

Utsumi: The difficult part during production was trying to convey the images we had in mind to each other, but finding that there were no common words to describe them with.

Iwata: Because you didn’t have the same experiences to draw from.

Utsumi: Right. If you’re from the same generation, you can say, “the way they did it in this book,” and they’ll understand you immediately. But when you’re speaking with the younger generation, and you’re trying to describe an anime that fits the image you’re talking about, you have to actually end up showing it to them and explaining it.

Iwata: So you end up having to translate it.

Takabe: You do…For instance, if you try to say something like “this ranking board should be like the one in The Best Ten (*15),” it’s not going to get across at all.

  • (*15) The Best Ten: A music program that aired on TBS from 1978 to 1989.

All: (laughs)

Osaki: It just flies over everyone’s heads…the feeling of excitement we associated with it just didn’t reach the younger generation at all. (bitter smile)

Takabe: And so, if we were working on Miku’s dancing and said something like “have her salute like Iyo (Matsumoto)-chan (*16),” it wouldn’t make sense to them at all.

All: (laughs)

  • (*15) Iyo Matsumoto: A Japanese celebrity singer and actress, who was active as an idol singer in the 1980s.

Utsumi: For this game’s, one of our themes for Hatsune Miku’s dances was “being like an 80s idol”.

Iwata: Oh, is that so?

Utsumi: Modern idol dances are very intricate, aren’t they? When Miku dances at that sort of level, it ends up being a bit too overwhelmingly cool and it just doesn’t have the right punch to the older generations. We thought, “there should be a little more of a weak spot.” So that was our goal in making her like an 80s idol. After that, there were the 90s dances.

Iwata: But it is quite ironic that something made with the theme of “future” ends up also drawing from old things, isn’t it?

Takabe: However…to flip it around, younger generations who don’t know about The Best Ten don’t see it that way. In fact, they see it and go, “oh, how new and fresh!”

Iwata: Oh, is that so? It’s like how fashion trends repeat in cycles. Like neckties that can be loosely or tightly tied.

Osaki: Perhaps (laughs). But what I’ve always thought, since the very beginning, is that our younger staff had a closer relationship with the demographic of “Hatsune Miku”‘s users. In particular, our youngest staff member is obsessed with Miku, and draws tons of pictures of her and posts them up.

Iwata: So Miku is both part of their job and their hobby.

Osaki: Right. So they were able to conversely tell us “the fans will be totally into this part!”, and so the younger generations and the old folks from the 60s can teach each other, so it developed into the feeling “we make a pretty good chemical reaction.”

Iwata: A chemical reaction created by the generational gap, in a sense.

Osaki: Indeed. So in fact, it’s a good thing that we’re so different.

Takabe: Well…it did end up making things quite heated and noisy, though (laughs).

Iwata: But in the end, people grow up with different values and have different experiences, and when they try communicating those, it gets difficult, but when those things mix, something new will be born.

Utsumi: I really think so. Incidentally, SEGA’s corporate culture is normally in such a way that if the producer says “to the right!”, everything must go right, and I’ve often had to make games like that. But for all the projects related to “Hatsune Miku”, all of the younger staff around me can go “but it’s the other way…?”, and they can take the role of supporting the producer instead.

Osaki: Yes, yes. We have a slogan, “playing it by rear”.

Iwata: Not just “playing it by ear,” but being so flexible you could even go backwards.4

Osaki: Right. “Hatsune Miku” was originally created effectively by her users, so we always went back to seeing what we made from her fans’ point of view. And if something felt “off”, we fixed it immediately. Our programmers have a lot of pride, so there would be times where they’d be griping “ugh, why!” all the time (laughs). In particular, the marketing people were willing to step up to say that something felt off, which would motivate the programmers.

Takabe: It’s less so that you could “hear” them and more that they were yelling it to you from a distance. Loudly.

All: (laughs)

Osaki: It’s always been like this, so that’s why we feel, when we made this game, “we’re making it like a 90s game.”

Iwata: At the beginning, Osaki-san said that he wanted to “make this game like the old ones.” How in particular would you go about doing that?

Osaki: For instance, we don’t have any kind of situation where people go “I’m the designer, so I can’t say anything about the programming,” or “I’m the programmer, so I can’t say anything about the design.”

Iwata: Ah, so you ignored the division of labor and let people give their opinions and ideas and assistance from various places. It is true that as the division of labor gets deeper and the authorities and responsibilities get divided, you end up not being able to say what you want anymore. You feel too dominated by the atmosphere of “you’re one to talk!”

Osaki: Right. But for the “Hatsune Miku” project, we have to meet the expectations of her fans, so we push forward with the idea “let’s take on this challenge together!” Normally, marketing people like Utsumi wouldn’t show up at the development site. But Utsumi is the one who knows the most about Miku culture, and he’s the ones closest to her users, so he ended up overseeing the process. Utsumi isn’t a programmer, or a designer, or a project planner, but in order to create a game for the sake of Miku’s fans, he went to all of the development sites and soke to the people there.

Utsumi: I definitely don’t usually go to the development site all that much, but when Hatsune MIku got involved, I ended up showing up quite a lot.

Iwata: How did that go? What was your reason for doing so?

Utsumi: Well…It was a challenge for me to try something new, and at first I had no idea what it was going to become in the end, so every time I showed up at the site and gave my thoughts, it was like the game was constantly changing, and it was a lot of fun.

Iwata: So you yourself were excited.

Utsumi: Yes. Also, our younger members of the staff were working there as designers and programmers, and whenever they felt nervous about giving their opinions as fans, I always felt “I want to give them that little push.” And then, look, see, these two over here are really passionate about it, so now everyone’s scared…(laughs)

Osaki/Takabe: Hey, hey, don’t say that! (laughs)

Iwata: (laughs) But while each staff member is a professional in their respective fields, it was a common understanding among the team that “you can say whatever you like as a Miku fan,” which made it easy to transcend the work environment of the 90s. Is that what you mean?

Osaki: Yes. Even if it was a particularly difficult thing they had to fix, it’d result in “but we can’t let the Miku fans see this!”, and then everyone would end up getting dragged in fixing it (laughs). It really raised the bar quite high, and the feeling of “we’ve taken responsibility for Miku-san into our hands, we can’t make her look bad” was permeating all of us.

Iwata: So whenever one person gave an opinion and the other agreed with it, it was common to all of the staff.

Osaki: I think so. That’s not how games are usually made today. We weren’t particularly intending to do it that way, but since we were doing this from the background of “Hatsune Miku” culture, it ended up feeling like that.

社長が訊く『ニンテンドー3DS』ソフトメーカークリエーター 篇

5. “Everyone has their own Miku”

Iwata: Looking at what everyone has said so far, we’ve clarified a lot of the mysteries about the “Hatsune Miku” games, such as “why are Miku fans so pleased with the games?” and “why is AM2 Lab developing these?”

Utsumi: Naturally, if we’d just announced “we made a ‘Hatsune Miku’ game!” out of nowhere, people may not have taken it as well. About a year before release, we released a video saying “we’re hoping to make it like this,” and I think people were able to be more open-minded about it. I think people liked the idea that we were all making it together.

Iwata: In addition to all of the attention it received, “Hatsune Miku” was fundamentally born in the world of the Internet, within the interaction between her users, and because of this, thoughts like “let’s do this together” and “let us surprise you” were thrown like a ball into the arena, and everyone responds to each other’s feedback. Considering how this is the nature of her fanbase, what do you think is the charm of “Hatsune Miku”?

Osaki: Hmm, well…

Utsumi: The first is that “there are many ways to get into it.” There are people who like art, people who like 3D modeling, people who like figures, people who like Vocaloid songs…you can get in from pretty much anywhere.

Iwata: You can run into her just by going onto a video site.

Osaki: There are cases of people getting into it by hearing a high school girl or some other singing songs at karaoke.

Utsumi: Once you’ve come in through your favored entry gate, you reach the “core” of “Hatsune Miku”, and then you might run into another entry gate…It’s that sort of progression.

Iwata: Was it designed in such a way that more entry gates could be easily created?

Utsumi: No, it’s not quite that straightforward, it’s more something like “they multiply before you can even control it.” A long time ago there was a tool that you could use to make Miku 3D models, and it was distributed by fans for free, but it’s not always something that can easily be explained by something so simple.

Iwata: The grassroots power of the fanbase is incredible.

Takabe: It is. Even among the staff, we have all sorts of fans. We have fans who are illustrators, and we even have fans who would say things like “I like this song, let me work on its PV.”

Utsumi: Another thing is that neither fans nor creators deny each other, and I think that’s one of the main charm points of this movement.

Iwata: Ah, yes. There’s nobody who will say “this is the right way to do ‘Hatsune Miku’, and this is the wrong way.”

Utsumi: Right. It’s not like other things where you might have the “original version camp” or the “anime version camp” or the “comic version camp”.

Iwata: It’s something where things that get popular simply get popular by themselves.

Osaki: I think the rule that “everyone has their own Miku” is at the root of everyone’s consciousness. Usually there’s a trend to have “all CGI models look consistent,” but this isn’t the case with Miku.

Utsumi: “Hatsune Miku” will be having her fifth anniversary this year, so perhaps this might change in the future. There are more and more fans who are saying things like “I like this” and “I don’t like this,” so perhaps there might be even more different sorts of fans in the future.

Iwata: I see. Then, finally, please tell us anything you would like to say to your players. We’ll start with Utsumi-san.

Utsumi: I think this game, Project mirai, is a game you can have a lot of fun with by playing it on your 3DS every day. It’s a game you can enjoy for as long as you like, so I hope you have fun with it.

Iwata: Truly a “game toy”, indeed. Next, Takabe-san.

Takabe: As much as there’s been a lot of recent talk about “changing new things,” in actuality, culture has a tendency to spin around and around in the same place, and it feels like the world is shrinking more and more. So, this time, we really wanted to challenge ourselves and try something different, thinking things like “we want people to physically interact with it more and play.” We also had the intent of suggesting “Miku can have this kind of charm, too.”

Iwata: This game may well be the start of her fans deriving new energy from it and creating a new form of Hatsune Miku’s character itself.

Takabe: I would be very happy if it ends up having that kind of positive effect. Also, on March 8, the release date for this game, and on the 9th of the next day, a live concert (*17) called “Miku Day Great Thanksgiving” will be held. I think many fans will be getting this game, so you may get a lot of StreetPasses.

  • (*17) “Miku Day Great Thanksgiving”: a concert event held at TOKYO DOME CITY HALL for two days, March 8 (Thursday) and 9 (Friday), 2012. The concert will be broadcast live on “Nico Nico Livestream” and at movie theaters nationwide. For more information on “Miku Day Great Thanksgiving”, click here.

Iwata: I see. I look forward to it. Next, Osaki-san.

Osaki: Yes. Well, it’s just me imagining my own ideal situation, but it’s a product that I hope will make you think things like “I’m happy just by holding it,” or “opening the box makes me smile,” or “having it in my desk enriches my life…”. We took all sorts of things and put them in so that hopefully you could be excited just by holding it in your hands, or cheer on Miku’s cuteness.

Iwata: “Something that might change your life” is a pretty new way to go at a proposal.

Osaki: It is, exactly. But for example, since it has an alarm clock, Miku can wake you up at a certain time. And if you don’t, she’ll get very angry with you in the end (laughs). Before March 7, you’d have to wake yourself up, but starting March 8, Miku can be the one to wake you up. That counts as a change in your life. It feels a bit pretentious saying this, but…

All: (laughs)

Osaki: But that kind of thing counts as a change in your life, and with designs and aspects that make you happy, Miku is that sort of cute (laughs). Please do put it by your side.
In addition, each and every one of the songs in the rhythm game are made with special care. In most rhythm games, they’re played according to the rhythm of the song. But this game in particular is about Miku and her friends as vocalists, and so the game is made so that you can press the buttons along to the lyrics, as if you’re singing with them. We’ve fine-tuned the game so that you can get good at it just by pressing the buttons along to the lyrics, so if you practice enough and learn the song, we hope you can also have the good experience of feeling comfortable with the rhythm game.
When you play well, a satisfying sound comes out. The 3DS has a very nice sort of sound. It’s like the “schwing!” that accompanies a dramatic pose.

Iwata: With this kind of rhythm game, it’s very important to have that kind of satisfying sound.

Osaki: I think so. We were very particular about making this sound satisfying, so please do try it out.

Iwata: Today, we had fun solving various mysteries about the “Hatsune Miku” project, such as how its creators became involved in the game industry, their thoughts on playing at the arcade, how the people at AM2 lab who are normally known for super-masculine games came to make a game about a virtual idol, and how they respond to the large amount of feedback from the fans.

Osaki: It may well be the first time I’ve gotten to talk this much…(laughs)

Iwata: Ah, but it was very interesting. I felt it would be good for us to have this chat, so that those who haven’t had any contact with Miku culture yet could take an interest in “Hatsune Miku” through this game. There’s a lot of value in having Miku on the 3DS, I think it’ll be good for everyone.

Osaki: I think so, too.

Utsumi: For instance, I think there is a high percentage of young girls who like Nendoroid Miku. On the other hand, there are probably starting to be more and more males who are thinking “I’d like to be woken up by Miku!” (laughs)

Osaki: Well, I think anyone who sees this kind of design will think it’s cute.

Utsumi: We did actually aim to get this game a CERO rating of A5 for this reason. We thought, “We would like it if even younger girls could play,” so…

Osaki: Ah, yes, that was a challenge. But that’s something you have to do before you can understand it, so it constantly feels like “I’ll jump on this ice, it seems like it’ll break, but it won’t break” (laughs).

Iwata: Are you facing the ice now?

Osaki: Yes. We’re jumping on it now (laughs).

Iwata: Thank you very much for today.

All: Thank you very much.


Translator's notes
  1. Hiroshi Utsumi, also known online to the Vocaloid fanbase as nakanohito1gou, was the lead of the SEGA feat. Miku Project games up until Project DIVA X, after which he retired from SEGA. []
  2. Mirai” (normally written 未来) is naturally Japanese for “future”, hence why Utsumi bringing up the word leads to Iwata discussing the game’s title. This also ties into Miku’s own name, as “Miku” is an alternate nanori reading of 未来. []
  3. I wanted the names of the songs mentioned in the interview to match that of the game, so (unfortunately) I had to leave it untranslated, but “Aku no Musume” is known as “Daughter of Evil” to the Vocaloid fanbase. []
  4. The slogan Osaki references is, more literally, 朝令“昼”改 (chourei “bo”kai), normally meaning “doing it without any guiding principles”, but Iwata notes the separation in the parts of the chourei (morning) and bo (afternoon), saying that beyond the usual lack of guiding principles, there’s no consistency to the point that the policy set in the morning has already changed by the afternoon. []
  5. The CERO is the Japanese equivalent to the ESRB or PEGI ratings boards. SEGA’s Miku Project games normally get a B (12 and over) or C (15 and over), but, uniquely, the Project mirai games were given an A (all ages). []

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