Interview: music-gaming legend, Masaya Matsuura

Vib Ribbon designer Masaya Matsuura wants to see barriers between the Eastern and Western world's games industrys broken down
Vib Ribbon designer Masaya Matsuura wants to see barriers between the Eastern and Western world's games industrys broken down

TechRadar managed to catch up with Masaya Matsuura at this week's Develop conference - the game designer and musician responsible for creating and popularising the modern rhythm-based music game genre.

While you may not know Matsuura by name, any self-respecting gamer will no doubt have played one of his many superb music-based games, which include PlayStation 1 games PaRappa the Rapper and Vib-Ribbon and – most recently – the Wii 'drumming action' title Major Minor's Majestic March (out in the UK later this month).

Matsuura also released 10 music albums with J-Pop favourites PSY•S from the mid-1980s through to the late 1990s, but switched his focus to music games following the runaway success of Parappa.

His Tokyo -based design and production agency NanaOn-Sha was also largely responsible for designing Sony's much-hyped AIBO robot dog.

Composing music on mobile

Most excitingly, for TechRadar, was the opportunity to get a short glimpse at NanaOn-Sha's latest project for mobile phones called 'ens-ens' – a music generating game that looked very much like it has the ability of turning a mobile phone into a fully-fledged musical instrument.

Frustratingly though, this is a Japan-only project for now, sponsored by Yamaha. We hope that it will see an international release, should it be successful when it finally releases.

"I would like to work with Google Android," Matsuura told TechRadar, "but I am waiting to see if it becomes popular." Though he refused to comment any further on plans for mobile music projects beyond the current (and awesome) 'ens ens' project with Yamaha.

The legendary game designer also expressed a desire to work with Microsoft's Project Natal, Sony's motion-controlled PS3 Wand and Nintendo's heart-rate monitor peripheral – the three new pieces of hardware announced by the console manufacturers at this year's E3.

However, he doesn't have any current plans or ideas for motion-controlled music-games using Natal (unless he is playing his cards very close to his chest), telling us that "he doesn't want to be a launch creator [with Natal]" but would rather bide his time to see how the technology is taken up to begin with.

A music-game peripherals scrapheap

Indeed, the music-gaming maestro foresees a music-gaming "peripherals scrapheap mountain" in five years time, following the recent rush amongst games publishers to cash-in on the genre that Matsuura almost single-handedly invented.

Instead of designing yet more gaming peripherals, he foresees more convergence and "product sustainability" for both the manufacturers and the users. Which is also good news for the planet!

As for the future of music-games, Matsuura hopes that we will see more games that use 'ethnic' and other music genres (name-dropping Peter Gabriel, here) suggesting that the current hegemony of western rock music in the games industry needs to be broken down a little.

This concern with breaking down borders in the games industry was echo-ed in another session earlier in the day, entitled: "Designer mash-up: Masaya Matsuura and Jenova Chen play PaRappa the Rapper and Flower" the two designers talked a little more about their desire to break down the gaming culture barriers between West and East.

"Developers in the East and West should not be too…It should be [more] international, and we need to work with more international artists," argued Matsuura.

Jenova Chen, Creative Director at thatgamecompany responded: "That's why we need to work with international messages in games, and international themes like love and freedom and nature and flight."

Tantalisingly, Matsuura did hint at a possible PSN version of the cult classic Vib Ribbon to celebrate its tenth birthday, telling the Develop crowd: "we still have many requests to remake the game. We're thinking about it all the time, so please just wait a little longer."

Smashing cultural barriers

In his talk on 'Music Games 2.0', Matsuura called for a 'global' standardized games rating system, suggesting that the balance between 'family-friendly' games and (the growing dominance of) adult-themed violent games needs to be redressed.

"The issue of violence in games isn't an easy one, and I wouldn't suggest that all games should be family orientated," said Matsuura.

"But there isn't a good balance at the moment. Classifying that violence is an issue without borders, really - it's something we need to tackle together."

Adam Hartley