Q&A: Killaware's Yamao On Japan's Upstart Dev Scene
Killaware was founded by a pair of Atlus expatriots -- Kazuhiro Yamao, who also worked at Capcom and Virgin Interactive, and Kiyotaka Ueda, who worked on the PS2 title Busin: Wizardry Alternative. Yamao's background is in public relations -- he was involved in the marketing and promotion of the Street Fighter II anime.
More than ten years later, Yamao talks to Gamasutra about being a new, original company on the Japanese game scene, and about one of the company's first titles, the DS "active-adventure" Lux Pain.
Can you talk a little bit about what it's like to start up a new company in Japan right now? A new company trying to make original games?
All the staff that are working at Killaware have a lot of experience in the video game industry already. Of course, Killaware's making good games, but you don't have to make good games to know that you have to work on marketing and on promotion for those titles too.
I know that in America it's somewhat difficult to start a new company and make original games straight away.
In Japan too, it's also really difficult.
So how did you manage to do it?
Our first title was actually a remake of a title from Atlus. In that case, we had very good results with the remake for Atlus. So when we had a game concept, Marvelous picked it up and said it was what they were interested in. We had a big debut too with the other title, and they said, "Okay, let's give this a try with Killaware."
In that case, Ueda is a really talented person, and thanks to him, their trust was retrieved really quickly, because he is a man with a lot of experience. If you start but don't have a lot of experience, and if you start with an original title, you must have high aptitude.
This may be a somewhat forward question, but is it difficult to get funding as a new company?
You need a good creator that has good past results. Having a good creator with past results really helps a lot. If you look at Killaware, we don't have a long background or past. At this point, if [a publisher is] just looking at Killaware, [they'll say] "We're not really investing in those titles." But because we had experience in creating titles, that's why they said, "Okay, let's give it a try and trust them," and decided to invest.
We had [our creators] doing the game concept from the start, and once you manage to make up an essential game concept, we showed it to the staff at Marvelous, and the game concept looked really good, of course when they saw Ueda participating in this title, they said, "Okay, this is a good concept with a good creator. Even though the company's really young, we should be able to hire them."
Of course, it's riskier to invest in new, original titles, and we know that. We can always try to make a sequel or use a movie license to make games, but we know that you won't go that far by doing, again and again, the same thing. At some point, we need to take some risks, and we said, "Okay, this is what we are doing."
It seems like an adventure game might be difficult to make it huge in the market. Will both Marvelous and Killaware be marketing it, since Killaware has its own experience in marketing?
We do not do all of the promotion. Killaware's experience background is in marketing, and we're going to cooperate with Marvelous. It will be a pretty good fit, because they know what we'll be expecting for the promotion, so they should be able to [cooperate] and they're already thinking about what kind of assets will be needed.
What does "Active Adventure" actually mean, as a genre?
KW: In [our game] Lux Pain's world, you have the Silent, which is a psychological virus that is spreading in this world. It's infecting people's minds, and it's spreading really fast. To beat this virus, there is an organization that was set up. The main character is part of this organization. In one city in Japan, the infection by Silent starts from there. He's going to go into this city and will use his psychic power to find the cause of Silent. He's going to search for how to find them.
When you have the sigma sign, that's when you know that you can start to use your power. There should be a Silent hidden somewhere, so you have to find it first. You can stroke with the pen, and if you see a blue flame, that means that there is nothing there. If it's green, you're getting closer to the Silent. When it's red, that's where the Silent is.
So you start to scratch in the air, and you can see that's the Silent. You have to erase it using the pen. When you erase the Silent, you find some key words, and you can put them into the character's mind. Now you can see what he's really thinking when you find the key words, you can see the effects from the text.
The words that are coming out from the top screen are the adventure part of the game, and that's why it's called a pen-touch action adventure, because you have to scratch to find with a pen, and you have to know where to look with the text, to know what's happening. That's why we just decided to call it an Active Adventure.
What were the influences for this game, from the adventure side?
It's an original title. It came from Ueda. We wanted to create an adventure game using both screens, a techno-adventure, a really good one, an interesting one to play.
How big is Killaware's staff now?
In both Osaka and Tokyo... for Lux Pain, it's around ten people, if you include the Atlus people too.
That's very small. So I guess you can only work on one project at a time?
Yeah, we have a studio in Osaka, and we have to work on games title-by-title. But we are thinking about increasing the staff at Killaware. We have a division in Tokyo, but the studio is in Osaka, and now we're thinking of opening up a new studio in Tokyo next year.
So there'll be two studios?
Yes. We're thinking about outsourcing, so the development of some of our titles will be just producing.
So you're interested in more than just the DS? Are you interested in going to the next-gen type titles?
It will be up to the publisher, if they request, you have to make something for the Wii. The title we made before Lux-Pain was on PS2.
Another silly question -- where did the logo come from?
KW: There's a volcano in Hawaii called Kilauea. [Ed. note: in Japanese, "Kilauea" and "Killaware" are pronounced almost identically.]
So that's an erupting volcano?
Yeah, and if the name is a volcano, maybe some good titles are coming out. The real volcano is spelled "Kilauea". It's like Killer Software.
The logo looks like a clown face to me.
Because it's "killer ware", it's a little bit scary. It's a killer, and we're Killaware, so it might sound a little bit scary. That's how for the logo design we wanted to make it.