Take a Closer Look at the Man Behind the Metal
Last month at E3, we here at Hey Poor Player had the amazing opportunity to sit down with none other than the legendary Tak Fujii to talk about his upcoming Nintendo Switch title Gal Metal. Having already been a seasoned member of the video games industry for over 20 years, Fujii has been pouring both his current experience as a producer and past experience as a sound designer (plus a heavy dose of love for all things metal!) into Gal Metal – and was more than happy to tell us all about it.
HPP: Could you start things off by telling us a little bit about Gal Metal, and about your role in its development?
Fujii: My name is Tak Fujii, and I’m currently working in a company called DMM Games. It’s a domestic company in Japan, so it’s not really famous, so not a lot of people may know about that publisher. I’m going through that game company and being a producer of a console game, a mobile game, and some other games, and Gal Metal is one of the titles. It’s the first original console title from DMM games, so it’s a uniquely challenging title for me and for the company. I’ve asked XSEED to be our publisher, to sell the game.
HPP: Where did the original idea for Gal Metal come from?
Fujii: From the God of Metal. He speaks to me. “Hey, Tak, make a metal game.” No… *laughs*
I started my career as a sound designer, and I’ve been in the business for 22 years already, so I’ve always wanted to make my own original music games, and that time has come. If you look at the Japanese domestic market for music, it’s, like, idol songs. Like “moe” or “kawaii”, or whatever. It’s not my style. So, instead, I chose a real band image. It’s going [to be] like punk rock, or metal…
Or maybe the God [of Metal] says “Hey, Tak, make a metal game, and tell the world that metal is great.”
HPP: For a rhythm game, Gal Metal seems to have an incredibly unique story. Where did the inspiration for that come from?
Fujii: It was made by the director of the dev team, named Shuho Imai. Imai-san. He’s been working for a long time in the video game industry. He writes all of the script. I just give him ideas about “a schoolgirl with metal”, and he wrote about it in the script. In the first plot, he was saying “hey, Tak, here’s the plot. You be the schoolgirl, okay? And here’s the alien.” “Alien?” [I asked.] “Yeah.” [He said.] “And metal power will bash those aliens.” And I said, “are you ruining my game or something?” *laughs*
No, no, no. He is really serious. And he is really special with the sci-fi stuff. He knows all of the old-school sci-fi from growing up. He believes in that plot, with the music, and the metal, and the sci-fi… and I’m like “okay, I’m believing you.” So, that’s what happened. And finally, as I read over the script, I go “yeah, man, you made it.” *laughs* We only showed the first episode at E3, but if you go through the whole thing, [each of the] entire episodes… you cannot stop playing.
HPP: Has the concept of Gal Metal stayed the same since the beginning, or have you had to change it at all?
Fujii: We were really, really struggling to figure out how we could make a music game without any notes. That was my goal, and that is my goal. Music itself is creation – your expression of yourself – so it’s not something you follow. It’s not rock. It’s not metal. So, I was talking to the team – and they have been [involved] in a couple music games already, so they know how to make a music game – [and said] ‘okay, team. This is my bottom line. If no idea comes up, yes, we’ll make a normal music game. But I won’t give it up yet.’
We spent a lot of time [trying] to figure out what is the best way of not having the notes, but where everybody can play the game. And there were so many changes around it. What about this? What about that? What about the touchscreen? No. We like the Switch. We like swinging. Okay, so how do we direct this one? Do we do kick on the right, and snare on the left? Or just something simplistic? It’s changing a lot. I cannot tell you [everything]. It’s going to take another two hours to completely explain.
HPP: Did your departure from Konami impact Gal Metal’s development in any way?
Fujii: No, not really. When I departed from Konami, there was no trouble. I’m appreciative of my career at Konami. Like, if you remember eight years ago… how I looked like. Can you imagine me with dreaded hair, walking around Konami headquarters? I was so free to do anything. *laughs* I don’t have any complaints about it. It’s just that the time had come, since Konami changed the way they’re going, from console to mobile – which happened to other Japanese companies, as well. So, yeah, that’s the main reason why I left. Nothing convicting, I wasn’t being harassed.
HPP: What are some of the unique challenges that come with developing a rhythm game on the Switch?
Fujii: When we first saw the Switch itself, the idea of taking the console out, like to a barbeque party or to a friend’s house, is suitable for a music game. When you play something, you want to show off. You’re the musician. And that looks fun. Having the Joy-Con, and the swinging, and having it make a sound, you know, it’s like a children’s toy, right? And it plays fun, and watching those people play is fun. And someone [could say] “hey, let me try it.” That feeling is important. We have stuck to the Switch console, with the Joy-Con, which is really unique. You can have fun with it. That’s a big deal for us.
HPP: Based on the game’s title we can obviously expect plenty of metal in Gal Metal, but will that be the only genre in the game?
Fujii: Yes… Yes! Because the Metal God told me to do metal.
Actually, in the beginning of the development, the team and I were talking about “hey, the metal is the only one [music genre]? Isn’t that kind of risky?” Or maybe we could have some kind of circle of clubs… like the folk song club, and the pop club, and the metal club. And you would fight against them, and you could compete for your club, and we could have a bunch of groups. Yeah, that may have a huge audience.
I brought that concept back to my headquarters during a meeting, and I said: “hey, we are thinking of changing the metal thing to something general, for bigger marketing.” And my colleague says “Tak… I’m so disappointed in you. You said metal. Metal saves the world! And it rocks! Are you chicken? Why the hell are you talking about pop music? And folk?” *laughs* So I said “Yes… metal. That’s the theme!” So, yeah, we could combine [genres] and make a mixture of a game, but me, as an ex-Konami person, I know how guitar freaks roll in Japan, and how they were beat by Guitar Hero. Guitar freaks had a bunch of generals [songs] in there. But, if you wanted to play metal, there were maybe only five or ten songs in there out of 100 songs. If you play Guitar Hero, that’s not metal. If you like metal, you don’t buy it. But if you play metal, yes, all the songs [in Gal Metal] are for you! That’s the concept. If you love metal, it’s a game for you. It’s not pop, not punk, I’m sorry. It’s metal music. If you love metal, there’s no doubt! *laughs*
HPP: How does Gal Metal’s gameplay help it stand out from previous rhythm games, like Guitar Hero and Rock Band?
Fujii: The Switch has peripheral that you can swing [that comes] with it, and you don’t have to purchase any extra stuff. So that’s huge. So all you need is a game, and a game console, right? And the Wii started with the drumming concept, and making drum sounds as a proper peripheral, so we had no doubt about our concept with the Switch. So there’s no reason to compare it to the legendary other titles, I hope. *laughs*
HPP: What would you say the best part of developing Gal Metal has been for you personally?
Fujii: Reading the manga part [of the game]. As I’ve said, the scriptwriter and director of the game is Mr. Imai. And the manga has been made by Toshinao Aoki. He is a famous manga artist, as well. He’s a professional manga artist. And Imai-san is a professional scriptwriter. And I’m just a game geek. I cannot judge their best script and role. So I just [say] “Hey, you guys. Make it happen. Make me laugh. Make me… you know, move my heart. Then I will be okay.” So they just bring up the new script and the new manga. I know they’re doing some discussions with it. I just don’t say anything. I’m waiting for the manga. [They say] “Hey, here’s the new episode.” [I say] “Guys… awesome!” *laughs* “Rock-and-roll!” So that’s their role. I’m just a manga reader, even when I’m a producer. It’s my game, but what they are making always makes me surprised. It was a really fun part. And, additionally, working with real musical instrument companies. They are very friendly, and dealing with them was a really fun part.
HPP: What’s been the most difficult part?
Fujii: Figuring out how to make a music game without any notes. Breaking the traditional rule is one of the hardest parts. The idea of the current version just came up from the God [of Metal] one day, so I don’t know why it happened. One day I just went “it’s an idea!” *laughs* “This is the way!”
The other part is… it is tricky when you have a peripheral. Like with [Taiko] Drum Master, you have a detecting point, so you don’t miss the point when you’re hitting something. But with Gal Metal, it’s an air drum. Each person has different reflexes, or where it should sound. Some people may expect the sound of the drum to play right after they swing, like with the pushing of a button. But for me, personally, as a drummer, when I swing down the Joy-Con – that’s the point when I want it to sound. So feeling it out, struggling, [asking] “what is the right configuration for everyone?” That is a tricky part.
And, as a final answer, I’m sorry, but I make the user adjust the settings. There’s swinging; “easy mode”. It sounds whenever you start swinging, so it’s like pushing the button. Then there’s the “drum mode”. It detects when the swing stops, which means where you “hit” the drums – where your wrist stops. That detects the sounding point. So if you’re a drummer, yeah, please play the drum mode. And if you want to just have fun swinging in the game, then this is just for you. Each person has different muscles and experience, so we have different combination for each person.
HPP: What part of Gal Metal do you think that players are looking forward to the most?
Fujii: To play the drums, and put it [their music] onto the social networks [and say] “hey, show me” [or] “here’s my drums.” It ends up as a free drumming game, so I don’t want to just do “one-two-three-four, two-two-three-four.” Yes, that makes points, and that boosts your score, but it’s not the concept of this game. You learn all of the elements of the game. All of the elements of the rhythms. And it’s now your turn to make them cool. Hot rhythms. *laughs*
So, if anyone has drumming experience, yes, please go to YouTube, or Twitter, or anywhere, and show your skills, and make new players [want] to learn the drums, so they can copy their tricks, and they can be cool. And maybe a new player will see it. And maybe someday, that beginner – who never played the drums – becomes a real drummer. It’s different, of course, because you’re using the right Joy-Con for the kick, but the basic rhythm you already know. So the goal is “hey, Tak. I became a drummer through your game.” That’s my goal.
HPP: Since Gal Metal is focused exclusively on drumming, is there a chance that we could see other rhythm games focused on different instruments in the future?
Fujii: I do have an idea on that. We tried doing lots of tricks by using the Joy-Con, but there are some quite advanced skills needed. This [Gal Metal] is a game for everyone – everyone from child, to adult – so we make it simple. And if this works well in the States, yes, I already do have an idea how to emulate a guitar with the controller. But first, I have to try and make sure this free-drummer, free-play music concept is acceptable for the US and the Europe market. Then, I will take another step for the next sequel, or maybe updates – I don’t know.
HPP: Before we wrap up, is there anything else that you’d like to tell us about Gal Metal?
Fujii: Gal Metal – coming to North America in Fall, 2018, from XSEED!
We here at Hey Poor Player would once again like to extend our thanks to Tak Fujii and XSEED Games for taking the time to be a part of this interview, and to One PR for helping to make this interview. Gal Metal is slated for release on Nintendo Switch in North America and Europe in Fall. And, if you’re interested in learning even more about Gal Metal feel free to check out our official E3 preview here!