Siliconera recently caught up with Japanese comedian Yoshiyuki Hirai, to discuss his work on Weapon Shop de Omasse, one of the titles in the Guild series of games that Level 5 developed for the Nintendo 3DS.
Hirai, who attended Osaka Designer’s College after graduating high school, formed the America Zarigani theatrical group. Upon graduation, Hirai attempted to seek out a job within the games industry, but things didn’t go according to plan. As the years went by, and members of America Zarigani left, the group was reduced to a duo, and went on to receive a number of comedy awards in Japan’s Kansai region.
Hirai’s love for games never left him, however. He has enjoyed smaller voice-acting roles in games and anime, including work in Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. He’s also been a player on the Japanese version of Inside Xbox.
Eventually, however, Hirai did get to make a game, and if you read our coverage, you probably know it’s one of the most interesting games on the Nintendo eShop today. In our brief interview with Hirai, we touched upon Hirai’s personality and comedy in background, and how it influenced the game.
How did you get into doing comedy? When did you realize you wanted to be a comedian and did you know if you were going to be good at it?
Yoshiyuki Hirai: I entered the world of comedy because a friend of mine invited me along. I had no prior intention to become a comedian. Naturally, my family was against it. Even people I didn’t know were against the idea! But it made me happy when the audience laughed, so I decided to continue. It was never about the success. Before I knew it, I had been doing it for 20 years.
Is doing comedy something that seeps out into your regular life? Do you feel obligated to entertain people even when you aren’t “on the job” or does it just come naturally to you? Alternatively, do you just “turn it off” when you aren’t working?
I tend to communicate proactively to try and entertain people, especially those I meet for the first time. Because of this, sometimes we’ll go out to nice restaurants and I won’t even remember what I ate. My wife always teases me because I work so hard to be funny when I’m out, but at home I’m quiet and immobile like a walrus.
You’re an avid gamer. You’ve done promotional segments for Xbox in Japan. What are some of your favourites and why do you like them?
The Rainbow Six: Vegas series, Borderlands series, Grand Theft Auto V, Call of Duty, Halo, Lost Planet, Assassin’s Creed, Test Drive, Chromehounds, and Crackdown are some of my favourites.
FPS games aren’t really big in Japan, but I like playing shooters with my friends online. I like the freedom that the maps and systems in these games offer. When I play with friends, I’ll invent a character and role-play them. Some American kid saw the way I played and called me a chicken, though. That was pretty sad.
Were there any games you’ve played in the past that were influential while you were working on Weapon Shop de Omasse?
Games like Ultima and a Japanese game called Xanadu. [Editor’s note: Read more about this game here.] The weapon shop masters that appeared in those games are so intimidating that I’d never enter their shops if I lived in those worlds.
What led to you working on Weapon Shop? How did the opportunity arise?
For about 2 years, every time I saw Level-5’s Mr. Hino, I kept telling him how I wanted to make games, so I think I might have hypnotized him. I never would’ve imagined that it would be green-lit at a bar, though.
When you’re doing comedy in front of an audience or on camera, there are so many ways to keep people entertained. You can either make fun of something, or perhaps make fun of yourself, or use interesting body language. But when someone’s playing a game, technology limits what you can do, and you have to adopt a very different approach to keeping the player entertained. How did you want to entertain people using Weapon Shop, and did your background in comedy have any influence over the game?
I tried to make the characters and story as unique as possible. I believe it’s important to make them instantaneously recognizable to users, but on the other hand it’s boring to be too obvious. I put effort into breaking convention. For example, I made characters who look like they should belong in the fantasy world behave like we do in our modern lives. I also referenced some of my eccentric friends to create the characters.
I paid special attention to the NPC dialogue too. I thought about how I’d react if I had a day where I felt really depressed and down on myself and looked on Twitter to see tweet saying “OMG I ate wayyyy too much pizza… I’m gonna get so fat! What should I do..?” All of a sudden, I’d be embarrassed that I was taking myself so seriously. That kind of gap between the dead serious and the mundane might lead people to laugh.
These were my thoughts while I was writing the game, but 80% of the game might have just kind of happened.
Weapon Shop is an extremely text-heavy game. Why did you select text as your main comedic medium?
I can show movements that I think look funny, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the players will think it’s funny. Text, on the other hand, has the power to trigger the imagination in a player’s mind. They can visualize their own hilarious scenes!
To tell you the truth, though, it’s really just text-centric because of the production budget. (laughs)
Xanadu image courtesy HardcoreGaming101.