Goichi Suda, more affectionately known as Suda51, has a reputation.Â
It took root after his 2005 cult hit, Killer7, took off in the US â his first game to launch outside of Japan. You took control of seven assassins as you stylishly explored (and killed your way through) Sudaâs fictional setting that highlighted political tensions between the US and Japan.Â
It looked like creepy anime, read flippantly, and played like a fever dream. It was a weird one, to be sure, and it wasnât for everyone. But for those that Killer7 did strike, it struck them hard.
It was then that the U.S. was formally introduced to whatâs become Sudaâs trademark style: that which they now call âpunk.âÂ
Punk, by definition, is the music genre born in the â70s, with a hard anti-mainstream bent. According to Suda, punk is about trying something new â something that no one else has tried â and doing it without regard to whatâs appropriate or whatâs established.
“I feel that pretty much the most punk thing you can do is try new things,” Suda told me through a translator at a Seattle video game convention. “Do something no oneâs ever tried before, because they didnât think of it, because they didnât have the guts to.”
But Sudaâs never really considered himself “punk,” at least in the way itâs most commonly defined. Itâs a label that others have put on him, and one heâs embraced.Â
“I take photos and make punkish-like expressions or say punkish things sometimes but itâs not really because Iâm trying to be punk,” Suda said. “Iâm basically just trying to do what I want to do.”
“To put it in terms of actual punk music, generation-wise, I wasnât really around during punk itself,” Suda said. “I never got influenced by punk. Generation-wise and work-wise, I am more of a post-punk guy. Musically, thatâs what Iâm more influenced by.”
Regardless, he does think No More Heroes exemplifies that “punk” brand, in its own way.Â
Suda, working on the next installment of his most recent franchise â No More Heroes â referenced the unique control schemes heâs become known for and promises that No More Heroes: Travis Strikes Again will surprise fans with a ton of new ideas they havenât seen before. Itâs all very close to the Grasshopper Manufacturer chest, as it currently stands.Â
The game was only just announced, so all we know is that Travis is back, and apparently heâs striking again. The story will revisit Travisâ antics, his role as the anti-hero, as well as some of the revenge themes that the previous titles explored, this time focused on Badman (note: not Batman) as weâve seen in the reveal trailer.Â
There was one new theme in this trailer, though. As the camera pans over to Travis in his dingy trailer home, we see that heâs playing indie hit Hotline Miami. Weâve always known Travis to be a big gamer â heâs actually in many ways a reflection of Suda himself â but No More Heroes 3 will have other cameos and collaborative ties with indie games. Itâs part punk, part Suda.
For Suda, the punk brand heâs become known for is about more than just the style of his games. Itâs about independence.Â
The idea of doing whatever you want, creatively, and itâs what appealed him to indie games in the first place. As heâs met more and more independent creators and seen the dynamics of how their teams work and the work they create, heâs been more and more drawn into the world of small team developments where anything goes.Â
“You can pretty much create whatever you want,” he said. “You can put in your own personal elements.”Â
And thatâs a sticking point for Suda â personal elements are how he identifies indie games. “One thing I feel is a must-have for an indie game, sort of a condition for it to count as an indie game, is to have personal elements.”
“Grasshopper started out basically as an indie studio,” Suda said. “Over the years, weâve grown, working on all our games on much bigger teams. For this game, I really wanted to go back to the indie spirit of when I first started out. We scaled back the size of the team to just 10 people. Iâve been really hands on with it, directing every part of it. This game was made in the style of an indie game. Small team sharing the responsibilities. You can totally consider this an indie title, in fact Iâd like people to consider it as an indie title.”
“Generation-wise and work-wise, I am more of a post-punk guy.”
Scaling his team back to roughly 10 developers means that Suda gets a chance to survey every aspect of the gameâs development. Itâs a workflow that Sudaâs familiar with, from the days of Grasshopperâs roots in the late â90s.Â
“I constantly had the parameters of my staff in my mind all the time,” Suda said. “I always knew what everyone was good at and wasnât so good at, I always knew what everyone was doing, I always knew what kind of jobs to give to certain people and what to give to other people.”Â
Itâs how they made the first No More Heroes but, as the studio expanded into the sequel and, later, the horror-esque action game Shadows of the Damned, it didnât last. The teams expanded and Suda wasnât able to work as closely with all of his developers anymore.Â
“Everything was really calculated and, I guess, a bit colder,” Suda said.Â
Independent studios, on the other hand, usually allow creative leads to stay in tune with their handful of developers. Itâs a style of working that Suda has missed.Â
“Thatâs one of the things Iâm most happy about going back to the indie style of things,” he said. “I know whatâs going on, I know how to do it, I know what everyone else is doing, everyone else knows what everyone is doing, and Iâm really confident we can make something cool doing this, the way indie guys have been doing it.”
So maybe heâs more indie at heart than he is punk, though heâs obviously wholeheartedly embraced the image gamers have attributed to him. Heâs happy to take on the role of unfettered freedom that comes with the punk ideology, and heâs happy to scale his team back down to an indie-appropriate size to be more hands on than recent years have allowed him to be.
But he did have his own insight into how he feels his style as a developer is and thatâs, vaguely, not being too proud of his work. I was told by the translator that Sudaâs wording doesnât quite equate into English, but itâs the sentiment of not attaching yourself to an idea simply because itâs yours. In Japanese, it’s: èªåã®ã¢ã¤ãã£ã¢ã«ãã©ã¤ããæããªãããã«ãã¦ããã(Jibun no aidia ni puraido wo motanai you ni shiteiru.)
“If I have an idea, I try it out. If it doesnât work, I say, ‘Ok, fine, screw it, this doesnât work, this is a waste of time, Iâm going to throw this away and move onto the next thing.’ By not having too much pride in what Iâm doing and by not having too much pride in my work, Iâm able to roll with the flow and evolve what Iâm doing in order to make the best thing possible. Iâm not sure if thatâs exactly a punk way of doing things, but not having too much pride is really important to me and depending on how you look at it that could maybe be considered to be something thatâs somewhat akin to punk.”
There you have it, from Suda51 himself: Heâs not punk, heâs post-punk. Heâs indie, heâs personal, and he doesnât let pride get in the way of making something great.