A product, not the goal.
This past Monday at PAX West, I had the opportunity to sit down with fellow PAX Rumble debutante and Grasshopper Manufacture founder Suda 51 to discuss the follow up to one of his most iconic releases, No More Heroes, and (admittedly) to take the opportunity to nerd out about the Great Muta with him.
That was off the record, my bad.
Video Game Choo Choo: So, the first thing I want to talk about is that it’s the tenth anniversary of No More Heroes, and it’s been a while since we’ve last seen Travis and the world of No More Heroes. What’s it like coming back to it after so long, and has the time away affected how you look at Travis’ story?
Suda 51: It’s been a while since I was able to visit Travis myself even. I’ve been wanting to revisit the characters and the series for a really long time but with everything going on with Grasshopper over the years with our other titles and everything, either the timing wasn’t right or we were too busy at the time with other priorities. So as the years went by I had been feeling more and more that I wanted to go back to revisit [Travis] and not really reboot the series but go back to the series and instead continue it.
Last year I came to PAX West for the first time and saw a bunch of different games and all the cool things people were doing. Right around that time was also back before the Switch was even called the Switch, when it was still the NX. I had the opportunity to check it out in person and I checked out the hardware and saw what sort of things the system was able to do with its controls. I decided that things had calmed down at Grasshopper with the titles we had been working on, I had been thinking more and more about bringing Travis back and thinking about what I wanted to do with Travis all the time. So, with the hardware that was available and with all the ideas I had such as where he was living now, what kind of situation he was in, it just felt like everything seemed to come together and I decided, “Okay, now the time is right. Let’s do it, let’s go back to the series.”
A big theme you’ve shown in Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes so far is this incorporation of video games into real life, we’ve seen games in the No More Heroes universe before, Bizarre Jelly for example, are there any plans to bring those back as well alongside the announced collaborations with titles such as Hotline Miami and Shovel Knight?
I’m happy you asked about this! So, as you can see, especially if you watch the trailer is that Travis is a gamer, he’s always been a gamer. One thing we want to accentuate with the upcoming game is that he’s not just into AAA titles but he’s into indie games. At this point all that I can say about the collaborations with Hotline Miami, Shovel Knight and other titles is that there’s going to be what we’re calling the “T-shirt Collaboration”. In the game Travis will have t-shirts featuring different, real-life indie games, like Hotline Miami, like Shovel Knight as well as a handful of others.
As for what we did with Bizarre Jelly in No More Heroes 2 when we had the game within the game, it really felt like it was it’s own proper game. It was a very fun shooter with proper animation and everything. This time it would probably be pretty difficult to do a full on collaboration like that with some of the titles you mentioned so there’s definitely nothing I can promise for anything like that just yet. However, I am seriously considering ways to possibly incorporate the characters from some of these indie games, for example Jacket from Hotline Miami. I’ve been talking to Dennis [Wedin] and Jonatan [Söderström] from Dennaton Games, trying to figure out some way to work him into the game. Again, I’m not sure at all how that’s gonna work yet or if it will work out but it’s definitely something that’s being considered seriously right now.
Let It Die was the last release from Grasshopper as well as a big success for the studio, is there anything you’re taking from the development of that and incorporating it into the Travis Strikes Again team?
As far as the actual development teams themselves are concerned, the teams working on Let it Die and No More Heroes are completely different. Once Let It Die calmed down a bit I split off from it myself and formed a much smaller team to work on [Travis Strikes Again]. So there’s basically two teams right now, there’s the Let It Die team and the No More Heroes team. This team is much smaller, and basically completely segregated from the other. That being said, as far as ideas and concepts go one of the main overlaps between Let It Die and Travis Strikes Again is the theme and concept of not only ‘in-game games’ but also the character in the game entering into the world of these ‘in-game games’.
So, this game console is the ‘Death Drive Mk. II’ and in Let It Die there was a console called the ‘Death Drive 128’, where the player was able to load up the game and go into the game world, so we kind of took the concept from that and applied it to this. The ‘Death Drive Mk. II’ is the predecessor to the ‘Death Drive 128’ from Let It Die, and again, the player puts the game in, turns on the console and gets sucked in, then they have to fight their way through there.
So this character here (At this point Suda points to a piece of concept art that we unfortunately aren’t able to post), is a character called Doctor Juvenile, who works for a company called ‘Hazure’ and she was the creator and designer of the ‘Death Drive Mk II’ and the ‘Death Drive 128’. So, the ‘Death Drive Mk. II’ has six games available for it, and she’s the designer/creator of all these games as well as the console. These are the games that Travis will be loading up on the console, going into and fighting his way through in Travis Strikes Again, anyway, that’s just sort of the backstory of where the console and these games came from.
With the recent remaster of The Silver Case and the upcoming re-release of The 25th Ward, are there any past Grasshopper Manufacture games that you’re looking at for a similar treatment?
Do you mean creating sequels to old games or just remastering them?
I mean, we can talk about both if you’d like, I’m pretty curious about both.
As far as sequels go, with Silver Case and No More Heroes, those were two titles that for a really long time I’d wanted to bring out a proper sequel to, and while Travis Strikes Again isn’t a numbered sequel, it is still part of the same series. That being said it isn’t exactly the same as a direct sequel to No More Heroes 2 so as far as No More Heroes 3 goes, that would be a completely different game.
There aren’t any other titles right now that I’ve got any concrete plans to make sequels for, aside from this obviously, but as far as remasters go, one game that I’ve really wanted to bring back for a long time, that’s really hard to play in it’s original form these days is Killer7. Killer7 has always been really popular with fans, I’ve always been a big fan of it myself and a lot has gone on with it over the years. Recently more and more I’ve been thinking that I really want to do something to bring it back and present it not only to newer and younger gamers who haven’t had a chance to play it yet but also to people who played it in the past and want to play it again for example through Steam or something along . There isn’t anything that can be concretely stated at the moment but that’s definitely something where I want to do whatever I can to make it happen.
So, the talk of sequels leads nicely into my next question. How exactly does this tie into No More Heroes 2? Obviously a lot of time has passed and Travis’ situation has changed a lot, but you just said it’s not quite a direct sequel. Will Travis Strikes Again address what’s been going on with Travis since the events of No More Heroes 2 or will this be more of a self contained story?
Well again, it’s not a direct sequel to No More Heroes 2, though they are directly related and take place in the same universe. Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes takes place seven years after the events of No More Heroes 2. As you’ve probably noticed it’s “Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes”, so “No More Heroes” is more a subtitle, there’s not a number on it. This isn’t a direct sequel and it’s not No More Heroes 3, but it does address some of the things that happened in No More Heroes 1 and 2. While it is sort of a continuation of that stuff, it is not a direct sequel partially because No More Heroes is about one assassin against other assassins, and this isn’t like that. This isn’t exactly a spin-off, or something like that, and while it’s not a direct sequel it is something of a stepping stone on the road to No More Heroes 3. So the way I’d like people to think of this game is like the beginning of a new battle for Travis, a new series within the series.
So then there are intentions to follow up with a numbered sequel to this then?
Yeah. If this succeeds I definitely want to put out a 3 someday.
Alright, this is kind of a fun question, you got your start in games with the Fire Pro Wrestling series and that’s sort of making a comeback now as well. What’s it like seeing that make a comeback at the same time that No More Heroes is making a comeback of it’s own?
It’s really kind of a strange and mysterious feeling, seeing this game that, like you said, was my debut series come back after all this time. Not only that but seeing it finally able to get out to the rest of the world and not just Japan. It’s really great to be able to see that, all these new players, and all the people who play it. I’ve been participating a bit in production, sort of overseeing and getting involved here and there, and I’ve been really happy with how it’s gone so far. The director, Matsumoto, he’s a really great director, knows what he’s doing, and I’m really excited to see exactly how it turns out, and I’m looking forward to seeing everyone’s reaction to it since people who have never had a chance to play before are finally going to get a chance to try it out.
The next question I have is, I guess, a bit of a technical one? So obviously it’s been some time since the original No More Heroes that was on the Wii and motion controls were a big aspect of that. Have the joy cons really changed how you’re looking at that at all? Or is it still kind of similar enough that you can transfer that original gameplay and feel to the new game?
There’s definitely going to be some new things, but there’s also definitely going to be some elements that I’m going to bring back from previous games, like recharging for example. The way that the Switch is set up with the two joy cons, I think there’s a lot of possibilities for those, both possibilities to bring back stuff that was in previous games, but also possibilities for completely new things as well. One thing I’m really excited about is, you know the Switch has two joy cons, we’ve made it so the game will be completely playable with just one of the joy cons. This doesn’t mean the other one is just going to sit there useless, there will definitely be some things you can do with it (which we can’t really get into now). As far as playing with one goes, not only is it going to make things more compact and easier to play with, but also there was one big reason that made me decide to make the game playable with only one controller. I feel that, if the game is playable with one joy con, that will make it easier to one day put Travis in Smash Bros. So I’m sort of just waiting for that invitation to join the series from Smash Bros. to come.
That was actually one of my questions! My Editor in Chief who’s a big fan really wanted to know if there was any hope to get Travis in Smash Bros. so I guess you kind of answered that for me!
By all means please offer your support for that. The more voices that come up saying “Hey put Travis in your game!” the closer it comes to reality.
So last question: the style of No More Heroes is very distinctive. It’s always sort of mirrored Travis’ personality of very aggressive. I’m wondering what sort of influences there have been on the style since the last few games, and if there’s anything directly influencing the aesthetic and story of Travis Strikes Again?
There actually are a few things. These are characters in the game. There was this guy named Yusuke Kozaki who was the character designer, he designed Travis, and most of the characters up until now.
Probably the most major element I’ve been inspired by that actually had a big influence on the game is the UK artist Boneface. Boneface designed these two new characters with Yusuke Kozaki, and they’re sort of a collaborative effort between the two. The way I found out about Boneface was one of my staff members a few years ago had this cell phone case with some really cool art on it. I was like hey what’s that and they said it was by an artist named Boneface and I was like awesome and checked him out online and was immediately like “hey I’d like to work with this guy.” So we tried to get a hold of him, see if he knew who I am maybe see if he wanted to collaborate sometime. I contacted him and it turned out Boneface had actually played some of my games, and was a fan of mine!
It was a while back but now with this newest game the times all sort of lined up so we said “Ok let’s see if we can do something together.” So I went through and saw a bunch of his art, exchanged ideas and all those sorts of things. Not only did we get Boneface to design these two characters and several others as well, but his art in general has definitely had an influence on my work over the last few years two. So I’d definitely say out of all of the things I’ve seen and heard out of the last few years the most influential would have to be Boneface.
We’ll have more coverage of Travis Strikes Again in the coming months.