This year marked HAL Lab’s 40th anniversary since the company’s founding, and last month’s issue of Nintendo Dream had a feature on the event, alongside an interview with Kirby series general director Shinya Kumazaki and producer Tadashi Kamitake, who talked about the company’s culture, and what they think of the pink puffball.
Here are the highlights below:
Please tell us about your usual work.
Shinya Kumazaki, Kirby series general director: “As the general director of the Kirby series, I am in charge of directing the overall series. Up until now, I have written up project plans, conducted presentations both in and outside the company, and worked on player actions, boss patterns, and general overall actions. In recent years, more people have come to support me on the project creation side, and we’ve been able to create our titles based on what each person wants to make. At the same time, the role of striking a balance in a way that it’ll better the overall series, protecting modern Kirby, while helping the series grow in the future, is one that I take up alongside Kamitake.”
Tadashi Kamitake, producer: “This is going to sound a bit vague, but I feel my work is to ascertain the worth of seeds of ideas of which the worth is still uncertain, by adding in passion and more ideas. However, thinking about this all alone will only frustrate me, and won’t help the idea take on a better shape, so I talk it over with Kumazaki and various other people both in and outside HAL Laboratory, and pick up on passion or ideas from discussion, in order to create a product that is easily understandable and has a large worth to it.”
To you, what sort of being is Kirby?
Kumazaki: “Depending on the position, I’d say the answer changes, but as the general director, to me Kirby is “a grand creation that has been passed down to me”. Even now, I’m walking alongside Kirby through trial and error, thinking what’s good, and what’s good for him.
As a game developer, Kirby is something like an “icon” which many people casually see, but allows them to understand the deep ‘fun’ that lies beyond the surface. And for me personally… despite having been with him for a long time, he’s still a “always-shifting and mysterious individual” full of mysteries and infinite possibilities.”
Kamitake: “What I see with Kirby is a mysterious existence that has a distinct personality in that he can suck anything up, yet is like a blank sheet of paper in that he can become anything depending on who he sucks up. Yet it’s because he embodies to two opposite extremes that he can become an indestructible superhero yet while being a friend you can get close to. I believe that you can feel a wide range of charm from him that can’t be compared to anything else. That’s why I think everyday of ways to share various sorts of Kirby’s charm with everyone in ways that aren’t just cool or cute.”
Please tell us about things that happened with the staff during development.
Kumazaki: “There’s a lot of episodes I can talk about where I develop while talking it out with staff… but really, all our staff are seriously distinctive, and have a varied taste in games and entertainment. This might sound surprising, but there are many people in HAL, ranging from those surprisingly knowledgeable in the Kirby series, to veterans who haven’t really played the series too much.
For example, when I asked for Gabon, a rather old enemy character to be added to the game, some would go on thinking I meant the enemy from the Mario series [Spike in English regions]. (laughs) In the first ending credits for Kirby Star Allies, we showed off really fast credits that called back to Spring Breeze from Kirby Super Star, but then a fix request would come in from a design director who didn’t know about it, saying it was too quick. (laughs) However, we value these sorts of opinions, and decided to add something to the way the credits played out to show that this was a fake ending, so that it would feel fresh to those who didn’t know the reference.”
Kamitake: “Something I’ve seen often are situations where the development staff are test playing Arena and other minigames, somehow get really into score attacking the game, and begin a boom in playing against each other or company-wide tournaments. Whenever I see this loop of the staff seriously playing the game we made, I would think to myself that this random, mixed mood of both creating and playing is something that is really characteristic of HAL Laboratory.”
Which staff have been with the Kirby series the longest?
Kumazaki: “(Jin) Kikkawa, who’s still a designer even today, and (Jun) Ishikawa, who’s still the sound director even now. Even in the games industry, HAL Laboratory is a company with a very small rate of resignation, and is a rare case of a game company whose staff sticks together for many years, without splitting after a project is completed and only leaving only the core members.
Regarding their roles, Kikkawa has been a character sprite artist since the original Kirby in Dreamland, and I’ve been working with him since around the time of Kirby’s Air Ride. He was the one who surprised me with the idea of Marx Soul’s death scream in Kirby Super Star Ultra. Ishikawa composed the Green Greens track and more, and since the second game, have created many a melody together with the other sound director Andou. In terms of music, even now I talk to them one on one, and won’t leave them alone. (laughs) Ishikawa and Andou have continued to challenge themselves while thinking hard about composing Kirby music for the future. With some younger staff on the team now, they’re hoping to pass on the DNA of Kirby music to future generations.”
Ambitions for 2020, HAL’s 40th anniversary:
Kumazaki: “I feel that HAL is a rare case of a company which was created to be a video game company, and has continued to be so for the entire time for 40 years. Despite being a company organization, each person is so unique and values individuality, and by creating an environment where everyone is able to focus on what they like, we’ve been able to continue on as a games company for 40 years.
I believe that I will continue to take on new challenges while handling the series and environment that has been passed down through many generations to me, while continuing to improve upon it, together with all 173 of our distinctive staff.”
Kamitake: “If you think of HAL Laboratory, many people will think of Kirby, but we’re actually a company which thrives on “creation”, with people of different generations using the various skills, such as our new challenge in Kame Sanpo; and the PasocomMini, which is based on our history. As this year is a milestone with our 40th anniversary, I’d like to continue to challenge new things together with our staff from young to old, in order to make this a year to remember for everyone via the results of our “creation”, so please look forward to HAL Laboratory this year as well.”