NieR: Automata is the next game in a long line of intriguing, unique titles from director Yoko Taro. Exploring death and violence in games, unique storytelling techniques, and giving players the ability to find meaning in their interactions with the world he’s created, Taro’s work continues to promote thought and introspection in his latest title.
Siliconera spoke with the humble developer at PAX East, looking to learn more about his thoughts in creating games, and how they shaped NieR: Automata.
You’ve said of NieR: Automata that “It’s all poop.”, but your fans are all obsessed with 2B’s butt. Does this mean that your fans’ passion is everywhere in your game, since poop comes from a butt?
Yoko Taro, Director of NieR: Automata – (laughs) There’s one thing that I would like to fix or edit. Basically, when I said that the game was poop, I essentially meant that the scenario I created and wrote was poop, in essence, but the entire game developer by Platinum Games is an excellent title. So, we don’t want anyone to misunderstand that.
With regards to the whole butt incident, I didn’t think that that aspect would necessarily be one of the focal points that everyone would be drawn to, but it is great to know that something we’ve put a lot of hard work into has been creating a lot of buzz amongst our fans.
With that said, there’s different kinds of approaches or directions and aspects to a game in general. We may have something like the ‘poop’ scenario that we were just discussing, or we may have wonderful, great action, and then there may be elements that people put focus on. For example, the ‘butt’ aspect that we didn’t imagine would become one of the points that were focused on in terms of a sexual thing.
It’s great that people have different types of understandings or interpretations, and they look at the game from different perspectives and directions. I think that’s something great about games and gaming overall.
With regards to video games’ themes and messages, I don’t think that’s something the creator generates or shoves down the player’s throat. I believe that it’s generated out of each player’s experiences and is something for them to find out for themselves. So, for them to find their own enjoyment in that experience, it’s great, as a creator, to hear that kind of variation, and that variety of experiences that the players find for themselves.
A lot of your work deals with murderers and killers not living very happy lives, but many video games involve players killing many people. What made you want to explore these thoughts?
The direction idea originated when I was working on Drakengard. When I was developing the idea of an action game where you kill people, you start to imagine what was the character’s motive in killing other people. We dug in to what could motivate these people to take these drastic actions – to kill someone is quite a frightening concept. Obviously, you can’t have a normal state of mind to engage in that type of action.
So, I didn’t feel like it was right, just because its a video game, for someone to kill another being and then go on to, say, kiss a glamorous girl right after that. It didn’t really fit or make sense. I felt that concept of murder – of killing someone – was a little bit more tragic. The idea originated from that line of thinking.
You’re starting to see a movement away from violence and murder in games, especially in the independent space. How do you feel about this change?
With regards to violence or discrimination, it’s my belief that humans can’t fully distance themselves from those kinds of sentiments. Humans, I believe, are created with faults in certain respects, and so, with some indie games moving away from that kind of violence or competition as themes, I still believe there will be a time we will need to go back and show those kinds of faulty aspects of human nature and express that through the medium as well.
What ideas are you most interested in exploring with games?
I’m not really interested in the bigger questions like the true nature of something or the universe or some world view. It’s more about faulty humans when they’re placed in these drastic, difficult conditions – how they would live their lives within that environment. It’s a more personal, narrower perspective where you’re seeing how someone is living out their life.
Would you say that’s reflected in your writing style, where you stick a character in a given situation and see where the writing takes you from there?
This is a bit of a technical discussion on how I build out my stories. Previously, I had a panel at GDC where I spoke about backwards scripting.
When I create the stories, they initially start with the last bits of scenario – what will happen at the very end. We would have these conditions like a boss fight, or someone that you love would die, or something would happen at the end, and you’re backtracking from that condition in order to make that a reality. What kind of characters and characteristics would you need to incorporate in that story? That’s how I develop those characters and characteristics.
In real life, I feel like it’s the same thing. We often think that, because violent people exist in this world, bad things happen. Because you’re friendly, you could be friendly towards, say, a cat. In essence, because someone is friendly to a cat, you feel you understand that person must be a good person. I start from the overarching story of what’s occurring in the world and distil it down to its true reality and nature.
Where you start from the end and work back, how do you manage this in a story that has multiple endings? How do you get multiple endings when you start with an ending?
It’s not necessarily that we have one particular ending that we have in mind from the beginning, but rather that there is a couple of climactic moments throughout the storyline. Basically, I come up with these moments, initially, and all of them are intricately stitched together to form the entire storyline.
Why have multiple endings to your games?
The real reason behind having multiple endings is, when the entire game playthrough is too short, a lot of people would be disappointed. So, the multiple endings are meant to supplement that. Given that we’re restricted in terms of our funding and budget, it’s kind of a way to save costs by using the same stages and characters, but having a slightly repetitive nature by having you play through similar areas several times, but experience several kinds of endings through that method.
You have a mixture of serious and silly with your endings, and with your work in general. Do you find it challenging to balance those two tones?
Whenever I’m creating something I do it this way, not so much so that other people don’t get bored, but so that I don’t get bored. I believe that, as long as I’m creating something which makes me enjoy the process and enjoy creating it, as a result, it ends up being something that incorporates a little bit of silliness into the seriousness of it all.
Ultimately, it’s because I’m also a faulty human being at heart, which is probably why it’s resulting in that type of mixture.
Do you feel you are opening the door for large studios to explore these odd thoughts and darker themes with your work?
I’m aware of a lot of indie game developers creating games that are based on kind of twisted themes, but for a company like Square Enix to be creating games with these kinds of themes – I believe there is value in doing so. Also, there’s not much of a competition in that genre (laughs). Once triple A developers start tapping into this market, I’ll probably shift towards making games where you shoot people for the heck of it, and kissing that glamorous girl at the end.
How is your work received, in Japan and worldwide?
With regards to Japanese games in general, the culture is different than North America and Europe. So, even if it is interesting in Japan, sometimes it isn’t necessarily considered fun or humorous or interesting in the US. But, even within Japan, I’m considered kind of ‘off the charts’ in the weirdness factor. Even if it is considered a little bit weird in the US, it’s also, most likely, considered a little bit weird in Japan as well.
If you understand where I’m coming from, that probably makes you a weird person in general as well (laughs).
This is something I’ve thought about quite a lot since my early days. A lot of my titles are a lit bit, not unbalanced, but a little bit off. I believe that the people who have accepted my works are, similarly, a little bit off. But, that kind of life, or way of living, and understanding, we don’t want people to discard that and dismiss it. I believe that we are all the same race, and I don’t want people to dismiss that and be accepting, moreso, of all that material that could be considered ‘off’ or a little bit out of the norm.