Killer 7 is not only one of the most visually sumptuous games ever conceived, it's also one of the weirdest.
With its blend of first-person shooting, obscure puzzle elements, point-and-click interface and a narrative that actually makes less sense the further through the game you progress, it's almost revolutionary in its sheer originality (not to mention what looks to be its complete lack of commercial appeal).
We recently caught up with Killer 7 producer Hiroyuki Kobayashi to find out how he gets away with it...
You've said you're bored of seeing rehashes - has that informed the game at all? Are games not original enough?
Of course, we wanted to do something that's different to what we've seen up until now and we had this crazy idea for a game. But there was also Mr Mikami [Capcom producer Shinji Mikami], who didn't want a game with a simple storyline or a cheesy plot - he wanted to make a game that had a more involved storyline.
Why seven personalities? Is there any reason for that particular number?
We started with seven characters - we just had pictures of them and the idea evolved from there. We stuck 'Killer' in front of it, to make them assassins, murderers, hitmen. We thought, let's give this some edginess, some coolness to it, that's going to resonate well with adults. It's not going to sound very cool to have something called Killer 4... You know, the Seven Samurai, right? We had one idea, Killer 1, but it just didn't sound right.
How did you approach finding a balance between the style of the visuals and the gameplay itself?
We did find it hard to balance the visual style and this strange storyline with puzzles and action. We had all these wonderful ideas and Capcom were saying, "we want this and this," and it all back and forth until we found a consensus. That was hard - it was rough - and it took a lot of time but I think we have achieved that balance.
The game features some sexual content, which is unusual - why did you do that?
There's not so much sex, per se, in this game, but there are some rigorous sports exercises that are perhaps sexual. There's a good-looking woman doing some moving around!
Is it getting harder and harder to do original games like Killer 7?
Certainly, not only with Capcom but also in the industry as a whole, there is tremendous pressure to put out games at a certain level of quality, over a certain period of time, and usually for as little money as possible - it's more and more difficult to make original and innovative games like this one.
What would you describe the gameplay as? First-person shooter? Puzzler? What?
I think it's just as the title implies in Japanese - feel what you're seeing, feel what you're hearing, feel what you're reading on the screen and don't think about it. Just play it. That's how we describe the action. It's not going around shooting everything like a regular action movie, you take in the visuals, you take in the sound and what you're seeing, and you go with it.
In terms of the interface this kind of revisits point-and-click games. Was that a conscious decision, to go back to that style? And if so, why?
Again, this goes back to our desire to create a game that's completely different to anything you've seen up until now. To have the analogue stick push in one direction where you have the different select formulas - do you want to go through the door, and so on - it's all part of our vision. There's system set-up in the game and, when you're fighting the Heaven's Smiles, you need to learn how to operate the controls so you can zap them in the right spot - there's an action element.
But really, what I'm hoping people will really focus on in this game is the individual peculiarities and characteristics of the characters, and how they fit in with this story that expands and develops throughout the game. That's what we're hoping people will find interesting and fun.
Are you concerned that some gamers might not appreciate the visual style?
It's something that we've thought about but, really, we understood from the very beginning that this wasn't going to be something that everybody would be into; we knew that this game was going to appeal to a certain core audience, people that would appreciate this visual style, this world view. We didn't have the Madden sports fans in mind - this wasn't made for them! So how can we worry about it?
The folks that are really into this game will probably give it 10 out of 10 but the people that aren't into it, the Mario fans and Tiger Woods golf people, will think, No, zero! It's like Tarantino, the movie director - there are people who love his films, no matter what, but there are others who hate them.
At any point did you have to reign in any ideas or tone them down? Have you got any examples of weird stuff you had to cut out?
That was all we did the whole time! One example we can give you is of the game screen: when you're playing the game, and getting more and more damaged, and it's getting more and more difficult, the screen would almost be like damaged glass, like a cracked windshield, and it'd get more and more damaged as time went on. But you can't play the game when you can't see what's going on!
Was this the hardest part of designing the game or were there greater challenges?
One of the most difficult things was when we'd get to a point where the game was looking good, and we'd want to make it better, scratch that idea and start from here. We were never satisfied with our work. There was a lot of anxiety there - we wanted to get this project done, see it work and succeed, so that was a big challenge.
Killer 7 will be released for Gamecube and PS2 in the summer