'Sometimes I'm playing my games in my brain,' Tetsuyah Mizuguchi tells us at the DICE gaming summit.
LAS VEGAS — It's a game that's kind of like "Halo" or "Doom," but mixed with a rave. It's called "Rez," and a couple of weeks ago at the DICE gaming summit in Las Vegas, it was the game I was talking about with creator Tetsuya Mizuguchi.
When people talk about video games as art, "Rez" gets mentioned. When people talk about cult classics, that's "Rez." When people talk about the only game that got known for encouraging players to put vibrating controllers against their body while playing it — really — that's "Rez."
"Rez" was a cult classic. Mizuguchi said Sega, the game's original publisher, didn't even want to sell it in America. "It was too abstract," he remembers them saying. "But I had a confidence that if people played it once, they would feel something. And I wanted to give people a chance to play." So the game is back, six years after it was released in the U.S., in the no-confidence release window of the first week of January. It's back as the polished "Rez HD," a downloadable game for the Xbox 360's Live Arcade.
Soft-spoken, and frequently with a shy smile, Mizuguchi described the game as his "life work" and something he wants to do more of, given the proper motivation. "I need a reaction from the people — from real people, not just a cult reaction." Play it the new way, the way Mizuguchi intended, and a gamer will need to have one 360 controller in hand, another under their feet, and two behind their back and neck, each one vibrating to a different beat while the game's lead character flies and shoots rhythmically as techno music zips and pounds.
So what's the guy who made this game like?
He's not the kind of guy you'd expect to spend his morning in a really quiet place. But Mizuguchi had done just that before he sat down for his interview with GameFile early in the sunny Vegas afternoon. He had awoken at 5 a.m. and driven to Death Valley. He had gone there just to think.
"I was thinking about the future, life, being a human being," he said. "All that time, I wasn't thinking about the game."
He's not obsessed with games. Unlike some other game designers, he seems almost hesitant to talk about them. He said he spends his plane rides from his home base in Tokyo to the U.S. reading, not playing a PSP or DS.
But he does run a game company — Q Entertainment — and he does think about making games all the time — games like "Rez." And he dreams about them. "Sometimes I'm playing my games in my brain," he said. "Sometimes I have a vision, a very clear vision that 'this is going to be fun.' I wake up and take a memo. In the process of making 'Rez,' I had that kind of dream all the time."
He gave an example about how his dreams help shape his games. He cited a rhythm game he made in 1999. "When I was making 'Space Channel 5,' I played all the time in the studio. And in the night, I slept on the couch in the studio. I would play and play." He'd fall asleep and still be playing in his dreams. One night that happened and "suddenly I heard a voice when I made a mistake. [It said:] 'Hey, what are you doing?' It was different voices. But I thought, 'This must be fun.' Suddenly, I had the inspiration: 'Let's [base] this on a TV show.' " The "Space Channel Five" game went from a simple music game to one set in a space-age TV soundstage.
Mizuguchi started his career making more conventional games, like the "Sega Rally Championship" racing game. He's spent the last decade, however, following his musical muse. And with each game, he's been hopeful to prove that the experience of a game like "Rez," or anything else that flutters through his dreams, can be mainstream. "I think we are always fighting between art and commerce," he said. "Sometimes I think it depends on the thing [we're making]. I think the 'Rez' experience may be becoming a bit more commercial in the future."
Can that hope be true? A year earlier at the DICE Summit, the makers of "Rock Band" talked about their nine years of struggle and cult-favorite status before hitting it big with the "Guitar Hero" series. Mizuguchi's career might get to that stage. Or he might stay a cult favorite, his work an electrified acquired taste. Either way, he can keep dreaming.
"Rez HD" is available now on the Xbox 360's Live Arcade download service. Multiple controllers can be used for maximum vibration feedback, but players with less hardware or experimental ambition can play the game with just one in their hands. Mizuguchi hopes people will at least try the game's free demo, but fans of the game say the fifth and final level is, by far, the game's best bit.
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