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Shinji Mikami interview: 'To be told Japanese games suck is a bit harsh'

Shinji Mikami was the creative force behind many of Capcom's biggest titles. But is he really set to hang up his directorial hat at his own Tango Gameworks studio?

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Even if Shinji Mikami had only made the genre-defining Resident Evil series, he'd be a genius. But with Devil May Cry, Killer7, Vanquish and more to his credit, he's earned his place as one of Japan's most innovative and creative game directors.

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Impressively, he's had similar success both in his home country and the west, first at Capcom and then with Platinum Games. Then in 2010 he founded his own studio, Tango Gameworks, which was quickly acquired by ZeniMax, home to Bethesda Game Studios and Id Software.

As he works on what he says could be his final game as a director and prepares to unleash his young protégée on the gaming public, Mikami sits us down in his swanky Tokyo office to talk Tango.

Why did you leave Capcom to form your own studio?

When we were first forming Tango we thought we'd be able to make smaller artistic games in addition to big-budget titles. As the company grew and we became part of ZeniMax, our focus turned to triple-A titles that will appeal to gamers all over the world. We also intend to nurture young creators and develop their talents for the future. This is a very important part of our studio culture.

Tango is ZeniMax's only Japanese studio. Does that affect how you work?

I have a little bit of contact with Id Software, which is really fun. We can exchange technical know-how. But as a Japanese studio,we have a language barrier, so we can't exchange emails and communicate as much as I'd like. Japan used to have the lead in the game industry, but now it's quite clearly America. I hope Japanese developers can take this hobby that we originally propagated and once more offer something special to the world.

Did you hear about Phil Fish from Polytron's comments at GDC? He said at a seminar that all Japanese games suck.

[Raucous laughter] I hadn't heard that! To be told that Japanese games suck is a bit harsh, but personally, 80% of the games I play at the moment are not Japanese. Skyrim, Batman... games like that are more interesting to me right now. Japan needs to make more good games if it wants people to think otherwise.

When I was making Resident Evil 4, Capcom's non-Japanese staff noticed that people overseas were writing that Japanese games suck, and they got upset. But the game we were making didn't suck at all, so it didn't bother me.

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And Japan has recently produced many wonderful games with unique character - Gravity Daze, Yakuza, Monster Hunter, Catherine, Super Mario 3D Land...

Yes, there are amazing games - just not enough of them. So many are based on anime or fantasy - games that only appeal to Japanese people. Most gamers overseas aren't interested in anime. We made Okami at Clover. It was such a breathtaking game, yet it didn't sell. If that's the case, westerners obviously don't like that sort of game. Maybe they prefer something a little more straightforward.

Do you think Japan's fortunes will change with the next generation?

It's possible, but it will take a lot of effort. Hollywood spends like 200 million dollars producing a movie, and you can make an incredible movie with that sort of money. But Japanese movie studios don't spend anything like that. The difference in [the] scale of the budgets [is] the same in games. Japan needs to make games like Hollywood makes movies. Ithink Capcom and Hideo Kojima's team are trying hard on that front.

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