Currently working on the development of his company’s debut intellectual property (IP), Yasuhiro Wada of Toybox recently took a little time out to sit down with Electronic Theatre and discuss the forthcoming Hometown Story. What’s more, we see his reaction to what his first successful franchise, Harvest Moon, has become over the years, as well as talking about his influences and what lies ahead with the next-generation of home consoles.
Hometown Story promises to take players to a fantastic new world full of colour and fun. With characters designed by Atsuko Nishida, the artist behind Pokemon and music composed by Nobu Uematsu of Final Fantasy fame, Hometown Story is a joyfully abstract life simulation videogame in which the players must move to a new town and become the proprietor of a general store they have inherited. You can read the full transcript of Electronic Theatre’s discussion with Wada below, and of course stay right here for all the latest details on the videogame from publisher Rising Star Games.
Electronic Theatre: Where did the idea for Hometown Story originate from?
Yasuhiro Wada [YW]: So when talking about how I came up with the idea about Hometown Story I first have to go back to the origins of Harvest Moon, my first game. The concept in Harvest Moon; there were three of them, which were taking care of animals, growing crops and human relationships. And the game as you know is continuing for twenty years already and it is getting bigger and bigger and more complex and the original idea behind it. I have a feeling… it was getting a buried under all the new features. But of course as a game it is developing very well, but the concept behind was getting a bit thin.
Electronic Theatre: There will be a lot of people who compare Hometown Story to Harvest Moon. What do you think makes it stand out? What makes it so different?
YW: Because I felt that Harvest Moon was getting too complex and the original concept was not in it so much anymore I decided to do something brand new and I was thinking about which of the concepts of Harvest Moon was most important to me and that was the concept of human relationships. So I wanted to do something new, a new game concentrating on this topic. And that’s why I created Hometown Story and I want that the people enjoy this aspect of life, different kinds of human relations which exist and I hope that people will play with fun.
Electronic Theatre: The art style of Hometown Story is very cartoony, perfect for the Nintendo 3DS obviously. Was there a distinct decision that made you go for that kind of art style?
YW: So, while I thought I wanted to produce a game which children love to play, because I myself… I was playing a lot and I was influenced by big movies and games in my childhood and it really gave me a life full of good experiences, and I’m really leading a very nice life and I want children to have the same option. So I thought to approach children it’s better to have two characters but this is not limited to children. Of course I want a broad range of people playing my game but I think this style should be attractive to many people.
Electronic Theatre: You mentioned that there was movies that influenced you and videogames presumably as well, could you list us some of your influences? What are the things that have had the biggest influences specifically on Hometown Story?
YW: Well I can’t say that there is a specific movie or a specific game which specifically influenced Hometown Story, but when I was a child I loved watching Star Wars movies, the Indiana Jones movies, I really liked them, and when talking about games I preferred playing Nintendo games like Mario or Zelda.
Field of Dreams, may be similar for the atmosphere. Similar to my game may be the movies Stand By Me and Field of Dreams.
Electronic Theatre: Were they popular when you were a child, those films, in Japan?
YW: Yeah, there was a time when I was a teenager or under twenty, that time I liked watching them. Yes and the movies they were popular in Japan. But not very popular that everybody was talking about them all the time, it was more a quiet popularity but they were popular.
Electronic Theatre: With Hometown Story, obviously you are working as your own studio. Do you feel like there’s less pressure on you to create it in a certain way? Do you have more freedom to create the game how you like it?
YW: Yes of course.
Electronic Theatre: Do you find it difficult trying to manage your studio as well as the development side?
YW: My company’s really small so I don’t find it difficult. The reason I created my own studio is because before, as you might know, I was working at Marvellous and also at Grasshopper with about one hundred employees and in the end my work was more management of the company than doing my own creative because I didn’t like the management share was growing and growing and my creative work was not having so much space anymore. That’s way I decided to have my own shop and a small one where I can be creative, where the management share wouldn’t be too high.
Electronic Theatre: So at Toybox, do you let other people do the management side then and you concentrate on the game?
YW: I do some share of the management work but just a little, most of my work is creative.
Electronic Theatre: So it’s a much happier working environment for you then?
Electronic Theatre: Is this the first project from Toybox?
YW: The original project… Hometown Story, is the first original project but we did release a director’s cut of Deadly Premonition.
Electronic Theatre: So was the ultimate goal always to make your own IP? Create your own videogame rather than someone else’s?
Electronic Theatre: So was Nintendo 3DS your first port of call then?
YW: Yes, actually at first we wanted to do something compact for something small/medium so that we can concentrate on the creation. Because when you get games for big consoles you need a big budget and also probably my management share would get bigger again so first because it’s a new game we decided to start compact.
Electronic Theatre: So is it possible that you’ll look into other formats in the future if Hometown Story is a success?
YW: Of course, yes. I myself as a designer of the games I’m very interested in also the new generation of consoles but we are running several other projects also at the moment so I think it will be something that we’ll think about in near future but not yet.
Electronic Theatre: So how do you feel about the next generation as it stands? Have you played much on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One?
YW: I really like them, yes. What I’m worrying about is that the new generation of consoles… they have so many functions the machines themselves it will need really big projects to adjust the games to the consoles. There are some games that are made for these consoles so that’s probably no problem but it might be hard to adjust the existing games to make use of all the new features and all the new mechanics.
Electronic Theatre: Did you not find that with the Nintendo 3DS though? Obviously the touchscreen, the stereoscopic 3D; these are all features that are unique to it?
YW: I think technically it wasn’t so difficult to produce a game to be used on a touchscreen or a [stereoscopic] 3D game. Technically it’s not so difficult to program a game so that it can be played on 3D or on touchscreen but what is the difficult part is to make a game more interesting by having it played on 3D or having it played on the touch screen and we really had to invest a lot… maybe we did not finalise… we did not reach the optimal fun using, making use of these features.
Electronic Theatre: So with the stereoscopic 3D of the Nintendo 3DS, a lot of developers are just making graphics in 3D but not actually using it for gameplay. Are there some ways that you’ve included in Hometown Story that make use of it?
YW: I think that’s our home work! At the moment it looks 3D but we have to develop further so to make real use of this feature.
Electronic Theatre: So are you happy with the way development has gone so far?
YW: Well I think what we could do, up until now we have done everything but for the future we want to make it even better and better.
Electronic Theatre: One last question to wrap up. Harvest Moon is obviously very internationally successful and Hometown Story is already developing a following in the UK. How does it feel to have your work recognised by so many people?
YW: I’m just happy about it, that it’s so well accepted everywhere in the world.
Electronic Theatre: Will you be coming back to Europe for the launch of Hometown Story?
YW: I hope so!