[b][color=#0060ff]Run You Clever Boy and Remember...[/color][/b]
Joined: 9-May 18
Legacy Posts: 23,465
Favorite Cousin: Ichigo
|GameCentral plays one of the weirdest video games ever and talks to its equally odd creator about Katamari Damacy and novelty flowerpots.|
Wattam was one of our favourite games from E3 2018. It was certainly the most fun we had playing any of them, and yet we’re really not sure how to convince anyone of that fact given how bizarre the whole thing looks. We have a feeling the more we explain the worse it’s going to sound, whereas the act of playing it is one of the most enjoyably surreal video game experiences we’ve had in a long time.
For some it will help to say that Wattam is the latest game by Katamari Damacy and Noby Noby Boy creator Keita Takahashi, although he’s made very little since then and many will never have heard of him or his surreal approach to video games. As great fans of his work though, we were very much looking forward to meeting him. And we have to say he was pretty much exactly as we imagined: mad as a chair and with an insouciant attitude towards his own creations and video games in general.
He’s been living in Canada and the U.S. for the last several years, so we are able to speak to him in English. Although understanding what Keita Takahashi is talking about is only partially a question of language. Our attempts to get him to explain Wattam were moderately successful though, and as random and nonsensical as it seems there is clearly meaning behind the madness.
Wattam begins with a sad-looking mayor sitting on a lonely green hillside. Both he and the hill, and indeed everything else in the game, is portrayed via a very simplistic, angular art style that will be familiar to anyone that’s played Takahashi’s previous games. At first there seems to be nothing for the mayor to do but sit on a boulder and ponder his solitude, but then he notices a smaller rock which turns out to be alive.
The little rock wants to play and so we chase it around the hill, playing tag and using the mayor’s exploding hat. This is far less dangerous than it sounds as it doesn’t injure anyone but instead sends nearby objects and people flying into the air – something which everyone, including the rock, seems to find hilarious.
Investigating the larger boulder it transpires that it is alive too and soon the hill begins to fill with strange new acquaintances, as the trio attract the attention of the sun and work out how to make flowers grow. The only consistent interactions are the mayor’s hat and being able to hold hands, but you can also swap control to any other character at any time by using the right analogue stick (the camera controls are on the trigger buttons, which is a bit awkward).
Before we know it we’ve been playing the game for over half an hour and taken control of a giant mouth that turns characters into little golden poos, as a giant side table is attracted by the commotion and comes to visit – complete with all the characters atop it.
By this point Takahashi himself has joined the game in co-op and although he clearly knows what’s going on we’re fascinated working out how to trigger the next event and all the different ways to interact with the increasingly bizarre characters (for example, a bowling pin challenges you to stack three small characters on top of each other to reach his same height).
Describing Wattam will put off as many people as it attracts but it is an unabashedly joyful experience, whose primary goal is simply to make friends and make them happy. Which is just one of the ways it’s completely different to almost every other video game.
We also enjoyed an almost equally confounding conversation with Takahashi afterwards, and by the end of it felt very glad that such a unique creator was finally returning to video games. Even if he doesn’t really like them.
Formats: PlayStation 4 and PC
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Release Date: 2018
GC: I was a bit disappointed with your new game because it’s very similar to a number of others I’ve seen this week.
KT: Oh really?
GC: No! Of course not.
GC: You know, I’ve realised that Katamari Damacy actually had quite a strong influence on my life.
KT: Oh, I’m sorry. [laughs]
GC: [laughs] It came out just as I was starting out in the games industry and it was so different and inventive it helped convince me that games were interesting enough to keep covering. So all of this is your fault.
KT: [laughs] I am sorry. It is my fault.
GC: But I thought you got sick of making games? I thought after We Love Katamari and everything you decided to go off and make children’s playgrounds. Is all this Nottingham council’s fault for turning you down?
KT: [laughs] Oh yeah. So you come from England, right?
KT: It was just a budget issue. The council had no budget for it. Making a playground from scratch needed so much money.
GC: Well, let’s go back to the beginning. How did you start off in games?
KT: That’s gonna be a long story. [laughs]
GC: I don’t think many people will have heard it. Did you like games when you were a boy?
KT: When I was a kid I played video games a lot, like Famicom [NES]. But I just stopped playing video games when I went into art collage, where I studied sculpture. But I didn’t know what to make. [laughs] Because I didn’t like art.
GC: You didn’t like art?
KT: Because what does art mean? I still don’t know what art means. So I don’t like museums or galleries. For me, art is like a very fancy thing for rich people.
GC: That seems a very negative view.
KT: [laughs] Well, I am a very negative person.
GC: You’d never guess from your games!
KT: At the art college I saw some students throw away the things that they made. Because it’s just a study. So, even the sculpture.. they made a physical thing and then threw it away after they finished the subject. Which made me very disappointed and I didn’t like the idea.
GC: So how did you go from that artistic despair to getting a job at Bandai Namco?
KT: I started thinking, ‘Oh, what shall I make?’ Maybe I should make a tool. Then you can use stuff too, in your life.
GC: Okay… what did you make then?
KT: I made a flowerpot shaped like a goat. From the bottom you can grow a flower and drain the water from the udders, but it is shaped like a goat. I presented it to the students and teachers and they smiled and laughed. And I thought maybe this is kind of what I should make, what I should do. Not sculpture but things that are functional and also have humour.
So after that I made some more stupid things: a table that transformed into a robot. But I didn’t want to be an artist because, for me, that would be kind of stupid. I wanted to make things that would make people happy, that would entertain people. And I realised, ‘Oh, I used to play video games and that was fun’.
So if I kept being an artist I can only make one thing and people have to be there to see my object. But a video game is a worldwide business. So many people can play the game. So then I decided, ‘OK, I should try to join the games industry’. But at that time I didn’t have any console or computer. I didn’t have any knowledge of the computer. [laughs]
GC: So your first game was Katamari Damacy? Well.. that worked out!
KT: Yeah! I joined Namco as an artist, not a designer. The boss who hired me thought I had a kind of talent to make something funny from scratch. Because he saw my sculpture. [laughs]
GC: I’m guessing your sculptures are in that same sort of style as the graphics in your games?
KT: Yeah, yeah.
GC: So what did you think when Katamari Damacy became a hit and they wanted all these sequels? And you became a corporate stooge?
KT: [laughs] The biggest reason why I made Katamari was because all games are very similar and boring. So many sequels, sequels, sequels. So I wanted to make something new and then after I finished Katamari, Namco wanted me to make a sequel. But that’s… you know… [laughs]
GC: Okay, well we better get onto Wattam. I played that for, what? 30 minutes. And I still have no idea what it is. Is that what you were hoping for?
KT: Yeah. [laughs] Did you like it?
GC: I thoroughly enjoyed it. I enjoyed the fact that I had no idea what would happen next. But how did it come about? Did you sit down one day and think you wanted to make a game about a mayor with an exploding hat?
KT: [laughs] There were lots of sources, but the one idea came from when I was playing with my kids. They were playing with wooden blocks and I made a tower for them, but they broke it and laughed. And my kids said, ‘Make the tower again!’ So I make another tower and they broke it again. So I was just thinking, what if the blocks could do things themselves? That’d be cute.
And then another idea was… I was living in Japan after leaving Namco, then moved to Vancouver. It was so different to Japan, with many different people – Indian, Chinese, European, African… They all have their own languages but they use English as a tool to work together. That was impressive for me.
But at the same time it is sad that we still have conflict and war, that also comes from the differences and different countries; different language, different religion, and different skin colour. I was so sad, that this is very extreme, so I just wanted to solve the issue. [laughs]
GC: You wanted to solve the issue of man’s inhumanity to man?
KT: [laughs] By making a video game!
GC: Well, you’re ambitious.
KT: If we are all the same type of people – the same religion, the same skin colour – maybe there would be less conflict. But that would be boring. Differences give us a very rich culture and a deep… something. [laughs]
GC: It’s true! I don’t know why you’re laughing!
KT: [laughs] So, somehow, I wanted to make a video game representing that everyone is different but everyone is the same, because we are living on the same planet. So why don’t we all just stop fighting each other and try and get over our differences, via humour. So those ideas coming together made this game.
GC: We’re all living on the same planet, I’m not sure about you.
KT: [laughs] Yes, maybe I am living in a different dimension. [laughs]
GC: You can go off and do whatever you want in the game, but it does seem to have a kind of structure to it. Does that mean it has an ending?
KT: Yes, there is an ending.
GC: Is it linear? Am I always going to meet those characters in roughly the same order?
KT: It is always the same, sorry! [laughs]
GC: That’s okay, I’m just trying to get a grip on it.
KT: I know my game is not for everyone. I don’t like to set a target, like this game is for teenagers or men of a certain age. I hate that idea.
GC: But technically it’s a game for anyone, because it’s very easy to play.
KT: But definitely people who like shooters won’t like this game.
GC: It’s my job to convince them otherwise. Since you forced me into the games journalism business.
KT: [laughs] That is your role! Introduce such a stupid game to the core gamer.
GC: Is this going to be a one-off or do you want to make lots more games after this?
KT: Yeah, possibly. Making video games is the only thing I can do.
GC: Do you have your own studio in Vancouver now?
KT: No, so now I am living in San Francisco. I work with a company called Funomena. I already have a new game idea and after I finish Wattam I’ll maybe start making the new one.
GC: Do you play other people’s games?
KT: [shakes head] I like to play video games that are fun or kind of new. But, you know, I just couldn’t find video games that I like. Games are all about fighting each other and shooting.
GC: But the indie scene has plenty of games that aren’t like that, or something like Animal Crossing?
KT: Why do you like Animal Crossing?
GC: It was just the first mainstream non-violent game that came to mind.
KT: [laughs] It’s just shopping and doing chores…
GC: If you’ve got this far without liking any other video games then it’s obviously fine. I wouldn’t change.
GC: It has been a pleasure to meet you. I’m a great admirer of your work. [attempts to leave]
KT: Thank you. Are you enjoying E3?
GC: Yes, I think so.
KT: Which game is your favourite so far this E3?
GC: What, other than Wattam?
KT: [laughs] Yeah, yeah.
GC: Well, nothing you’d like I think, but maybe Cyberpunk 2077.
KT: Did you play it?
GC: You can’t play it, just watch a 50 minute demo. They don’t exactly say but it looks like it’s going to be running on next gen consoles.
KT: Oh. [laughs] So it is just about the graphics?
GC: Well, not just… Look, you asked me!
GC: I don’t think you’d like it, let’s put it that way. Or, what about Ghost Of Tsushima. Would you play something like that?
KT: Maybe just because of the samurai sword-fighting. But what is the difference between that and Dark Souls or any other action game?
GC: Explaining that is also part of my job.
GC: So you don’t like Dark Souls either?
KT: I’ve never played it. I get bored just fighting enemies. Maybe I should try to play that kind of video game after I finish Wattam.
GC: I’m sure there’s something out there you’d enjoy.
GC: Well look, I’ve got to go but it’s been a real pleasure to meet you.
KT: Thank you very much. Thank you.