Mineko Okamura: Space Channel 5 VR, from SEGA to Grounding
This is an exclusive look at the definitive version of Space Channel 5 VR from VRLA 2018 and a profile interview with Mineko Okamura about her life and career. Okamura-san is the CEO of Grounding, an independent video-game company based in Japan and currently developing the virtual reality sequel to one of SEGA’s most successful and bizarre games ever: Space Channel 5, a visionary music game first released in the late 90s where Ulala, a space news reporter in the 25th century, saves humanity by defeating evil aliens through dance moves and singing, sometimes even helped by Michael Jackson as Space Michael. As one of the few executive women and entrepreneurs in a male-dominated videogames industry, before founding her own company Okamura-san worked on many legendary SEGA games and developers like Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s REZ, a musical shooter inspired by Kandinskji’s work as a painter.
What’s New in Space Channel 5 VR
Here is a brief recap of what Okamura-san, CEO of Grounding Inc, and Sakuma-san head of PR, shared about Space Channel 5 VR:
- The Arcade version is finalized. Total duration: 15 minutes. Okamura-san explained that this is the perfect duration for arcade because the game is intense just like a workout.
- There is a new move called “Pose”. It will help Ulala’s share go higher if you strike a pose at the right time.
- The only confirmed version for now is HTC Vive and Arcade, with potential PSVR, Gear VR, and Oculus coming later. Console versions should also be playable just with a joypad.
- The game uses 4 strap motion controllers, positioned on ankles and wrists.
- The storyline is entirely new with new songs coming together with some old songs. Okamura-san confirmed Mexican flyer.
- No word on Space Michael’s presence.
- Classic locations like the Space Port will be present and completely redesigned in 3D.
- Ulala will sport a new contemporary design focused on upgrading her looks without losing the traditional retro-futuristic style.
- Okamura-san called many of the people who worked at the original Space Channel 5 (and Part 2) to create this new episode in the Saga.
Simone Salis (host): Okamura-san is the CEO of Grounding, an independent video game company based in Japan and currently developing the virtual reality sequel to one of Sega’s most successful and bizarre games ever, Space Channel 5, a visionary music game first released in the late 90’s where Ulala, a space news reporter in the 25th century, saves humanity by defeating evil aliens through dance moves and singing, sometimes even helped by Michael Jackson as space Michael in the old games. As one of the few executive women and entrepreneurs in the male dominated video games industry, before founding her company, Okamura-san worked on many legendary Sega games and developers like Tetsuya Mizuguchi with Reds, a musical shooter inspired by Kandinsky’s work as a painter. Okamura-san, yoroshiku onegaishimasu.
Mineko Okamura (guest): Yoroshiku onegaishimasu.
S.Salis: Thank you so much for being on Hoomans today. We’re at VRLA, which is a big conference about virtual reality games that are taking ground right now, and we are here at the Los Angeles center in the hall, that’s why we have this background noise, and there is also with us today, Sakuma-san, which is the head of PR at Grounding, Inc. Sakuma-san, yoroshiku onegaishimasu.
Takako Sakuma (guest): Yoroshiku onegaishimasu.
S. Salis: She is the PR head of Grounding, and she’s also gonna jump in the interview and give us some details about Space Channel 5 and Grounding’s projects. But I have one very important question for you. It has been a mystery for almost fifteen years. Some people say that you are the original voice of Ulala in Space Channel 5, because the credits only say ‘herself’ for the voice. Okamura-san, are you the voice of Ulala?
M. Okamura: That’s a really good question. But, why don’t you ask Ulala on 25th century, because she’s a TV reporter from the TV galaxy station.
S. Salis: I’ll try. I’ll try in VR. I’ll ask Ulala and I’ll see what she says.
M. Okamura: Yeah. But it’s really an honor that some people said, ‘oh your voice is like really really Ulala’, so –
S. Salis: Well Ulala is a great singer in the game. This is one of the most innovative games from Sega, and you work with so many great productions there in the late 90’s when you joined, and then you founded your own studio, Grounding, over ten years ago. How did you end up here? What did you want to do when you were a kid?
M. Okamura: When I was kid, I really loved to making some stories, so it’s like a poem, or like a novel, or like some type of scenario for a play.
S. Salis: Oh like roleplaying with like –
M. Okamura: Right right right right. So when I was a kid, I love to make like a poem book and then I rented it to my friends and gathered a new request or like a new comment –
S. Salis: A sequel?
M. Okamura: Right.
S. Salis: And so you went back, you worked again, and you created new stories and new poems for your friends when you were a kid?
M. Okamura: Yeah, right right. Yeah right.
S. Salis: That’s beautiful. So you always liked telling stories like you do in video games?
M. Okamura: Yes yes yes.
S. Salis: And what did you do growing up? Where did you grow up? Where did you go in high school?
M. Okamura: Oh, and then I went to a high school in Kobe, Japan. So, it’s called Kobe College Junior High School, and that school is really unique that there are no –
T. Sakuma: School uniforms.
M. Okamura: school uniforms.
S. Salis: Okay, okay. Like the classic school uniforms in Japan?
M. Okamura: Right.
S. Salis: Why was that? Why didn’t you need to have –
M. Okamura: So, their style is really respect of the student’s freedom or free will to –
S. Salis: It’s a creative, creativity, choice. So in the morning, you have to think about which clothes you want to wear… because Sakuma-san was telling me earlier that usually the uniform is so you don’t have to think and spend time about what you’re wearing, but actually choosing your own clothes is an invite to creativity.
T. Sakuma: Yeah, that is kind of like the Japanese culture we could tell, because basically, if you really really think about it for the group, you don’t need to be the one to destruct the group.
S. Salis: Oh, like the –
T. Sakuma: Yeah, so and we just put our toes on the same lines at the same time so it’s kind of like protecting the student –
S. Salis: It’s a thought of –
T. Sakuma: Protecting the students, so because if you give some freedom to the students, sometime it’s gonna be messing up for the like other ones who are in the school. But so her school is really unique to respect.
S. Salis: They already give you opportunity.
T. Sakuma: So whatever you bring to the school, it doesn’t matter because there is creation, their own meal, their own character.
S. Salis: So that’s when you start to develop, like you also were able to develop the creative side?
M. Okamura: Yeah.
S. Salis: And what did you decide to do for college? Did you go to college or University?
M. Okamura: Yeah, right. I moved to Tokyo because I wanted to learn the writing novels.
S. Salis: Okay.
M. Okamura: And then the Wasada University is really a good, great at writing novels. So I moved to there.
S. Salis: And you started to write and to learn how to write?
M. Okamura: Yeah.
S. Salis: Did you write any novels right away or did you decide to focus –
M. Okamura: Right, so as a…
T. Sakuma: Graduation.
M. Okamura: Graduation.
S. Salis: Oh yeah sure, dissertation.
M. Okamura: I made a really really personal novel.
S. Salis: What was it about?
M. Okamura: It was about my, like solitude I felt as a kid. It’s like between, a relationship between my father and my mother, something like that. But the –
S. Salis: Oh that’s personal.
M. Okamura: Right right. It was really really personal. It’s like healing to me, but when I found out my experience is really narrow, it’s like not so much deep, so I wanted to work in a big company. I wanted to work first to get a lot of experience –
S. Salis: Life experience, then when you were more mature, then you wanted to write?
M. Okamura: Right right.
S. Salis: Makes sense. That’s humble. That’s really humble of you. And um where did you start to work then after college?
M. Okamura: I worked first at Avex. It’s a record, it’s a music record company.
S. Salis: It’s a music label in Japan?
M. Okamura: Right right, and they had a really big dance music genre. They had a really strong –
S. Salis: Uh in the 90’s right?
M. Okamura: Right right, and then the policy in the teenage is like to move someone, to move someone by writing novels and move someone by –
S. Salis: Emotionally.
M. Okamura: dancing actually.
S. Salis: Okay. So physically.
M. Okamura: So it’s like a real match. Right right right.
S. Salis: Okay so you want to touch the emotions of people through, well through dance and music. So physically and also emotionally and spiritually in that way, with music and dance. So you start to work at Avex in the music industry, and it makes sense because you worked on so many games that involved that, and involve also storytelling. You have, for Grounding, you developed a playbook stories games, so that goes back to that. You work at Rez, and that, and how did you end up working at Sega? You were working for the music label, what were you doing?
M. Okamura: Yeah, so it was really funny that when I worked for Avex, my first job is buying, is selling some rookie artist’s CDs in the club. So after my, so my work finished, and I’m going to a club to sell CDs and then it’s – so all the time I sell the new cub, and there, Mizuguchi-san, who is a Sega producer
S. Salis: Oh yeah.
M. Okamura: was there as like a [japanese].
T. Sakuma: So actually like the first task for like the new employee in the Avex, their first job is to go to any club to sell CDs from Avex, so any indie CD to sell. Their first task for the rookies who’d just started working.
M. Okamura: Right.
S. Salis: The first time you just start to work, you need to start from low and then you can work your way up.
T. Sakuma: So, company said go out, go to anywhere you can, sell the CD for the indie CDs.
S. Salis: And she met –
T. Sakuma: And every time she’d go to the club, Mizuguchi-san was there.
S. Salis: Tetsuya Mizuguchi?
T. Sakuma: Yeah yeah.
S. Salis: Oh.
T. Sakuma: Every time, wherever she goes, whenever she goes. It’s such a coincidence, but at the same time, it’s very interesting.
M. Okamura: I thought, oh he really – so he has no work? Because he didn’t work.
T. Sakuma: As her job, she’d go to the club to sell the CDs, but everytime –
M. Okamura: He was always dancing.
S. Salis: And it’s like, why is Mizuguchi-san doing there? So you would see him at night?
M. Okamura: And then we are being friends, because [japanese].
T. Sakuma: because every time she saw him, every time he saw her.
S. Salis: And they said hi?
T. Sakuma: ‘Hi, you’re there. Hi again. You’re here. You were there. I was there.’
S. Salis: That’s insane. Let me just explain who he is for who doesn’t know it. Mizuguchi-san is a legendary producer at Sega. He was very innovative in the creation of, again, this –
M. Okamura: I never never noticed that so, you know I had no information.
S. Salis: You didn’t know that at the time? You were just like hi?
T. Sakuma: She had no idea. ‘Hi. You were the guy who was in – ‘
S. Salis: Well Mizuguchi-san also has a band, Genki Rockets?
M. Okamura: Ah, Genki Rockets. Right, but before –
S. Salis: Before the Genki Rockets. So you saw him there and you started to know each other just there?
M. Okamura: Right, yeah, and then we started to talk and some day, Mizuguchi-san asked me, ‘why don’t you come to Sega?’ I said, ‘what?’ Because I was really a rookie for Avex, so –
S. Salis: You just started.
M. Okamura: I think I need some stuff to do for Avex. But Mizuguchi-san asked me, ‘I understand your goal to do entertainment worldwide.’ So you know Mario?
S. Salis: Yeah, sure. Super Mario.
M. Okamura: ‘Everybody knows Mario, even Brazil people knows Mario.’ I really got a shock, oh my goodness.
S. Salis: Video games are worldwide, and then you were like –
M. Okamura: Yeah, so it sounds like music industry is not so big.
S. Salis: And maybe also Japanese music industry is very local. There is a style. There is like pop, but Japanese pop and it’s harder to share. But then you started this.
M. Okamura: Yes. Right. Then I was really shocked and, ‘oh I have to go to gaming industry right now’.
S. Salis: Did you used to play before, a little bit?
M. Okamura: Yeah. I loved to game personally, but I never thought about as a creator to join that industry.
S. Salis: The games industry, the video game industry. So you ended up there? And what did you do – so you go to work at Sega, what did you do at Sega? What did Mizuguchi-san expect from you?
M. Okamura: Yeah, so Mizuguchi-san asked me, Mizuguchi-san promised me that within three years, you’ll be a producer.
S. Salis: A full time producer at Sega?
M. Okamura: A full time producer at Sega. So please make it first as a assistant producer of Mizuguchi-san.
S. Salis: Oh okay, for Reds?
M. Okamura: Right, for Reds and for Space Channel 5.
S. Salis: It was such an incredible moment for Sega, because Sega was in a hard moment financially, but creatively they created things that revolutionized it like Space Channel 5. It’s the first time that a music game wasn’t just rythtm and pushing buttons, but it had songs that were fun. It had a story, and there were dance moves with Ulala and it was this, it was just the first time that you did that, and with Reds too. Reds is like a concept. It’s just lines and basic shapes and formed with electronic music that changes. So then how did you feel working at Sega during that time?
M. Okamura: So Mizuguchi-san’s goal is to gather completely new people –
S. Salis: New users?
M. Okamura: New users to join the Dreamcast. Also so he was looking for a new staff, so not from the gaming industry but from other –
S. Salis: To bring in other creatives from –
M. Okamura: Yeah, interesting people. So like me or something like from pantomime artist.
S. Salis: Pantomime? Okay, so like –
M. Okamura: So he made a funny motion of Morolians –
S. Salis: Sure, the Morolians. They’re the aliens that Ulala fights in Space Channel 5.
M. Okamura: Yeah.
S. Salis: Yeah, and so those dance moves actually come from like mime artists and like motion tracking with those?
M. Okamura: Yes yes yes.
S. Salis: That’s interesting. That’s really interesting, and Sega was doing weird control devices at the time because Seaman had a microphone and also I think REZ, let me ask you ask that. Rez had a weird controller –
M. Okamura: Yeah we a had a, we called it a transvibrator. It’s a crazy crazy –
S. Salis: You connected a vibrator controller to the Sega Dreamcast.
M. Okamura: Yeah, so my job was to –
S. Salis: Oh you worked on that?
M. Okamura: Yeah to learn a lot of vibrators.
S. Salis: Like sex toys vibrators?
M. Okamura: Yeah yeah, even that.
S. Salis: Even that, just game vibrators and even sex toys vibrators.
M. Okamura: Right, so I learned a lot of system of vibrating, which was really entertain people. They like that.
T. Sakuma: In the entertainment industry anyways.
S. Salis: In the entertainment industry. Yes, for adults. Yeah it was crazy. So you worked on that? That’s insane.
M. Okamura: Yeah, so we made it.
S. Salis: That’s crazy, and then you worked, at some point, well you were in the United Game Artists, UGA?
M. Okamura: Yes, Mizuguchi-san’s company.
S. Salis: Mizuguchi-san’s company in Sega. Then it happened that Sega restructured, and you ended up working with the Sony team?
M. Okamura: Yes.
S. Salis: The team that created and works on Sony games and you know, I’m also curious about – Sega games – Space Channel 5 has a solid fan base in the United States, and even more in Japan. I’ll try to describe it again. The main character name is Ulala. She’s a space age reporter from the 25th century for a station called Space Channel 5. Each level is a news report where Ulala does the report, called Swinging Report Show, and then she defeats these aliens that force humans to dance endlessly. That’s how – they like put a spell on them and they cannot stop dancing. She fights back and dances, beating them to their own rhythm and the original game even featured Michael Jackson himself as Space Michael, and the soundtrack is an adaptation of like jazzy themes from the sixties in a Japanese flavor of stories and jokes. It’s really funny. The jokes are really a great part of it, and now you are creating a VR sequel. Sega games were said to be ahead of time in 1998. They were like visionary. So you think maybe this is the right time for Ulala and Space Channel 5 in VR?
M. Okamura: Right, exactly. Yes. You know Sega Games is too early to release all the time.
T. Sakuma: Maybe she wanted to say to create it?
S. Salis: Yes, it’s early and visionary.
T. Sakuma: It’s way beyond us so some other people wouldn’t understand so what’s the point of this game, but now this kind of situation finally following the Sega’s idea actually.
S. Salis: So it’s the perfect timing finally to revisit.
T. Sakuma: Finally.
M. Okamura: Yes, finally. It’s the time.
S. Salis: And VR is a new approach. You showed a demo a couple years ago for the first time there was interest in the game, and you kept developing it. How is Space Channel 5 going to be more rich in virtual reality? What does VR add to Space Channel 5 as classic gameplay?
M. Okamura: Yeah so it was really important point to make it so, because Ulala has a really great feeling but it comes from some low polygon, also can make some Ulala’s very style.
S. Salis: Realistic.
M. Okamura: Yeah, pop and catchy style. But the current status is really high and rich polygon. But –
S. Salis: So you are creating a new Ulala?
M. Okamura: Right.
S. Salis: And a new Ulala in high resolution?
M. Okamura: Right. So we had to make a good balance between that.
S. Salis: Classic Ulala and modern new Ulala for the fans.
M. Okamura: Right, because as a gamer, I don’t want – Ulala’s hair really looks so –
S. Salis: She has this pink hair and it’s supposed to be like flowy but in the old Dreamcast game, you didn’t have enough polygons and so it was like a basic few polygons Ulala, and now are you gonna make her like –
T. Sakuma: We just want to keep a little bit of that wave. Because now it’s like I know she’s living in 25th century, but at the same time this is Ulala, and the galaxy station. It’s not just really like in the reality things.
S. Salis: Okay.
T. Sakuma: Because if we try to make her more real, we could do that but at the same time, we just keep herself just like Ulala, like before.
S. Salis: That’s her identity. You want to keep it for the fans. You want to keep it close to the original, even if you’re upgrading it.
M. Okamura: Right, so that it’s like the style is like a little futurstic style so it’s like a –
S. Salis: Like The Incredibles.
M. Okamura: Right or Robinson, that game. Do you know Robinson?
S. Salis: Sure sure, the family. Yes.
M. Okamura: Right right.
S. Salis: So it’s retrofuturistic, it’s what people like in the 60’s imagined of the future?
M. Okamura: Right right. So their hair doesn’t move very –
S. Salis: Naturally. It’s more like the style that you kept for – that’s nice to hear because Space Channel 5 has such a strong visual identity. At some point, MTV in the United States wanted Ulala to do the news report. At some point that happened. Which kind of controls for the game are we gonna see? Is this the classic controls, because Ulala, to beat the aliens, she had like up down, left, right, shoot, hey. Are we gonna see the – I don’t know if you notice, I’m a fan. I’m almost singing it.
M. Okamura: Right right. So in VR, we use the four tracker. So for wrist, and for ankles and then so if you want to – so when I work on – so up and then your wrists are up.
S. Salis: Oh okay. So it’s literally like Ulala?
M. Okamura: Right right.
S. Salis: And is that how it’s gonna show – we’re gonna have four motion controllers?
T. Sakuma: Four motion, right and left on the wrist, and one and a two on the ankles.
S. Salis: I might never stop playing now.
T. Sakuma: So that is a key feature. It’s not the point how she moved, like the hair is really natural, it’s just like real human being. It’s not the point.
S. Salis: It’s how you are moving.
T. Sakuma: Yes.
S. Salis: It’s because you, at that point, become Ulala and you’re gonna be able to move and dance like she needs to.
M. Okamura: And also we add a new feature we called Pose. So it’s like when you strike a pose, so you have to…
T. Sakuma: You’re just gonna be I strike a pose just like Ulala. So you’re gonna be – she’s a reporter on the TV station, right? If you strike a really nice pose just like Ulala, your ratings gonna be higher.
M. Okamura: You can track their pose very
S. Salis: I’ll explain for whoever doesn’t know, didn’t play the game, Ulala doesn’t have lives, has ratings. The higher goes the rating, the more you can go ahead in the game, in the news report, and so sometimes at the end of a battle, she strikes a pose and if you hit that pose and it’s more share, and so with the motion tracking we’re gonna have the ability to strike the Ulala pose and gain more points in the game. Okay, I’m really excited about that.
T. Sakuma: And since we have like full sensors, two in the wrist, two in the ankle, you have to make sure you strike a pose exactly as she does.
S. Salis: That’s crazy. That’s beautiful. Oh that’s so nice that you’re adding new functions using also motion control in 2018 to make this game fun.
M. Okamura: So really good exercise using VR. Dancing exercise.
T. Sakuma: It’s really exercise.
S. Salis: We’re gonna see Ulala work out. After you finish the game, you’re gonna burn some calories.
T. Sakuma: She’s gonna be pushing you in the game.
S. Salis: You know, Sega, with this like Sega game and intellectual property and Grounding working on it, it’s nice to see because Sega had such innovative controls in the late 90s, even before Nintendo did the – which is also super great, but did the Wii motion controller and everything, and so we’re gonna see some of that reincorporated in Sega’s work in Grounding. That’s really nice to hear. So Space Channel VR, is it an entirely new game with a new storyline, or is it gonna have like the same stages, or some of the stages in Space Channel 5 in part two? Is it gonna have the same songs, new songs? How is it gonna work?
M. Okamura: So we choose some mixture of like original one and new features. So like, design wise, it’s like really original because when I first saw Space Channel 5, oh that space is really Space Channel 5, so the design is like a spaceport from original Space Channel 5.
S. Salis: Oh, from the first Space Channel 5, there’s a spaceport and it’s gonna be upgraded with more polygons instead of like videos in –
M. Okamura: So on Dreamcaster version, it’s like no modeling at all. It’s like
S. Salis: videos, on textured walls.
M. Okamura: texture. So we made a 3D modelings –
S. Salis: Great, so we’re gonna see the same spaceport as Space Channel 5, the original one, and what about the songs?
M. Okamura: So song is really featured, Mexican Flag is famous theme for Space Channel 5, so we added – but the story is new.
S. Salis: Okay, so it’s a completely new storyline just for Space Channel 5 VR. So it’s like a Space Channel 5 part 3 in VR?
M. Okamura: Kind of. Kind of.
S. Salis: Kind of, but it’s even more because you’re jumping a different platform.
M. Okamura: Right that’s why we named the game as Newsflash.
S. Salis: Kinda Funky Newsflash.
M. Okamura: Kinda Funky Newsflash, so not Swinging Report Show, it’s not too long that like that but kind of –
S. Salis: Nice, well you know also in a tweet, and it was in Japanese so I might be wrong, but you also said we are going to use those motion controllers on the ankles. We’re experimenting so you better not play with a long Victorian skirt. It has been confirmed to be released on HTC Vive, so you’re gonna release Space Channel 5, you’re gonna release Space Channel 5 Kinda Funky Newsflash on HTC Vive, and the US website mentions also an arcade VR version. What would that be?
M. Okamura: So, first of all, we’d love to release an arcade VR version for a VR game center because you know –
S. Salis: Especially in Japan, probably?
M. Okamura: Uh, no, worldwide. So we aim to release worldwide because you know consoles, VR hard prices a little bit…
T. Sakuma: Pricey.
M. Okamura: Pricey right now.
S. Salis: It is. So I could just go somewhere and play without the need to buy, because HTC Vive is like at least 800 dollars and so you want do the –
M. Okamura: But in future, we are planning to release video game console version that’s like HTC or Playstation VR or something like that. We haven’t decided yet, right now. But we are planning to.
S. Salis: So you have for sure the HTC Vive and then you’re gonna see maybe it’s gonna be PSVR, or other platforms too? But you in Japan, I think you announced a collaboration with a Japanese mobile gaming company called Awu, if I pronounced that well?
M. Okamura: AU.
S. Salis: AU. Okay? And for that I think you showed a demo for Space Channel 5 VR on Samsung gear VR right? So is there gonna be a working gear VR version yet, or there is a working – so you’re not sure to release it worldwide, but there is?
M. Okamura: We’d love to do this but it’s not have been decided yet.
S. Salis: Okay perfect. But with the console version, will I be able to play, for example, just using a normal controller?
M. Okamura: Yeah.
S. Salis: So I could just use the D-pad button.
M. Okamura: Yeah, yeah yeah. I think.
S. Salis: Can you make a Switch version for me please?
M. Okamura: Yeah, we’d love to. I love Switch so much.
S. Salis: Okay, you do? Nice. Well we’ll see. Maybe that will happen. Also, I kind of already asked you that, but Futatsugi-san, the COO of Grounding, which is also the creator and developer for Panzer Dragoon, yeah on Saturn, other legendary games, he’s also working with you at Grounding because so many talented Sega developers and people came to work at Grounding after the Sega team kind of rearranged and dissolved, and he was, I think he specifically, was talking about this VR release on Galaxy Gear, which is powered by Oculus and that’s why I was curious about that. Are you going to work with Sega to bring back more Sega classic titles? Maybe in VR?
M. Okamura: Yeah, as a player, I want to play Panzer Dragoon VR, like riding dragons.
S. Salis: Well there was a game that Grounding developed, and I think Futatsugi-san was already like the developer, and the name is, it was on Xbox –
M. Okamura: Crimson Dragon.
S. Salis: Crimson Dragon. Isn’t that a little inspired to Panzer Dragoon a little bit?
M. Okamura: Right, right.
S. Salis: Okay, and you want to bring it to VR?
M. Okamura: So all the time I ask Futatsugi-san, so when do you make Panzer Dragoon VR? So you know so please make some noise to push him.
S. Salis: Yes. We’ll push Futatsugi-san.
T. Sakuma: Yes, she also needs supporter to push him to let him to make like a Panzer Dragoon VR.
S. Salis: We’ll create a movement and ask him for that.
T. Sakuma: Yes please.
S. Salis: You know what, I know that Futatsugi-san is a fan of food and wine so if Futatsugi-san does it, I’ll cook Italian food, if he likes it, for a month.
T. Sakuma: Yes.
S. Salis: Um, so Polygon reported that Tetsuya Mizuguchi-san, that you took the bot earlier, the original producer for Space Channel 5 when you started working on it as assistant producer, gave his blessing to the project in VR and specifically to you and Grounding. Like we said, lots of people at Grounding are former Sega employees. Mizuguchi-san has a very personal style and approach with music, dance like your own background and you worked together. What is your style? What are you working on? What does characterize your work?
M. Okamura: Yeah, so I worked with Mizuguchi-san for about six or seven years when I worked for Sega, so I think I’m really so Mizuguchi-san style, very very closely and Mizuguchi-san’s style is like, it’s really –
S. Salis: Visual art.
M. Okamura: Yeah. So he has a really great charisma.
S. Salis: He does. Even remotely can see that.
M. Okamura: Right. But to me, I found that my style is like more a teamwork style, so I have not so much charisma like Mizuguchi-san. But I love to make chemistry between great talented creators. So –
S. Salis: and that’s why you also recruited maybe Futatsugi-san and the other developers.
M. Okamura: Yeah. So it’s like a combination – as a producer, my work is to pickup great talent and then put together to one team and then manage a gret chemistry between them.
S. Salis: So you want to see people cooperate and work and build together to gather a story, like bringing their own value and personal point of view to the creation.
M. Okamura: Yeah. Right right.
S. Salis: So you’re more like a figure that helps to develop and to flourish ideas for creators and – okay.
M. Okamura: Yeah. Right right. So what many people think of Space Channel 5, only Mizuguchi-san’s name appeared, but our team had a really –
S. Salis: It’s a big team.
M. Okamura: Yeah, big team and then there are like great joking atmosphere from Yoshinaga-san. He was a lead designer of Space Channel 5, or like Ulala’s face, Ulala’s style is coming from Yumiko Miave she was a lead designer for Space Channel 5. So –
S. Salis: So that was also the important part of creating this revolutionary game. So do you want to recreate that? Is your goal to put together this amazing talents and create something new with –
M. Okamura: Yes yes yes. So I asked them to join as a Space Channel 5 VR team.
S. Salis: Oh great, so they’re coming back? They’re coming back to work on the project?
M. Okamura: Yeah. Right right.
S. Salis: How many people are working on Space Channel 5 VR now?
M. Okamura: We are now, it’s like seven people maybe. Yeah.
S. Salis: Okay, that’s a fairly good team. Especially because you’re gonna use third just with a demo, like to see if there was interest in that.
M. Okamura: So we talked a lot with how should we update for –
S. Salis: 2018 and VR. Yeah. What is the most fun – well you talked about the pose function, the new one, that it’s coming. What do you think people are gonna love the most about the new Space Channel 5 VR?
M. Okamura: So first of all, you can go into the Space Channel 5 atmosphere. So you can look around 360 degrees and you find a lot of oh it was Space Channel, oh that was Space Channel, oh that was Space Channel too.
S. Salis: So to feel inside the report show?
M. Okamura: Right, actually the style.
S. Salis: That’s great. I wondered, in 2007 you decided to found your own company, Grounding, and maybe before that a little bit, Mizuguchi-san founded Q Entertainment, and when did you decided to found – why did you decide to found Grounding, to create Grounding?
M. Okamura: Right, so I, so when I worked for the other company to producing games –
S. Salis: Sega?
M. Okamura: So after Sega.
S. Salis: Microsoft?
M. Okamura: Right right and then I joined Mizuguchi-san’s project as a project manager from Microsoft.
S. Salis: Q Entertainment?
M. Okamura: Yeah yeah. So but currently, Mizuguchi-sans making battle games called 99 Nights. It’s like a war game kind of.
S. Salis: So totally different?
M. Okamura: Right. Totally different style. So it’s not the usual Mizuguchi-san style. But we have to do that and then when I – but I found that it’s like to kill people by pressing A button.
S. Salis: It’s a murder simulator.
M. Okamura: Yeah. But I think I don’t – so that game is not so bad but –
S. Salis: Of course, it’s the genre.
M. Okamura: Right right. It’s genre. So but I think I’m not good at that kind of genre. So okay I need a rest and I think I have the time to learn a lot about the future. So I left Microsoft and I was a freelance producer at that time, and then so I’m not so busy so I have time to chatting my friends.
S. Salis: And gather ideas and so you decided that you wanted to do different games, like because the games you’ve been producing are mostly like cheerful, happy, colorful. So that’s the kind of game that you wanted to work on.
M. Okamura: Right right. So it was really inspiring that many, my friends are being mothers and then they ask me to, why don’t you make a game for kids?
S. Salis: Kids, and families.
M. Okamura: Yeah, and it was the time that the Nintendo’s Wii is coming so it’s like old NES like, it’s like game is coming back to the center of the family.
S. Salis: So like Famicom. Famicom was family computer which was the name of NES and with Wii was like again like a family device to have fun and connect together and so that became your goal. You’re like, I’m gonna make games for family and friends to connect with each other and have a good time. So more casual gamers, or learning kids that kind of think – that makes sense because also Space Channel 5, it’s a very fun game to have fun like in a cheerful way, in that way. So how is it being a woman in the game industry and there are so very few executive woman, and you founded your own company. Was it hard to be a woman in the game industry for you?
M. Okamura: So I never have any really challenging situations as a woman.
S. Salis: Personally, no.
M. Okamura: But I have been in a lot of challenges as a human being but I think it’s easier to communicate with other men creators.
S. Salis: Why?
M. Okamura: Because, as a woman, myself – major creators in the game industry is men. So they are more competitive as man to man but me, myself, as a woman, it’s easy talk or ask to do something. ‘Oh, please help me.’
S. Salis: You’re playing the role. You’re using it. Okay, so you’re an outsider. It’s not like being a man, but you can kind of like say like I do this kind of things so –
M. Okamura: Or sometimes, you know, as a mother, ‘oh you have to go back home today’ or something like that. ‘You work too much.’
S. Salis: Do you have any kids?
M. Okamura: No.
S. Salis: No, but in general.
M. Okamura: Yeah right right. So because my Grounding stuff is like kids to me.
S. Salis: Yeah it makes sense.
M. Okamura: Big mother.
S. Salis: It’s your child. So and in Japan, I mean, in the United States and all over the world, it’s very hard for women in executive positions, but even in Japan, I think in Japan even more given the culture for like women when growing up to become like in a powerful position, I don’t want to sound ignorant, I am probably, but I was told that for women working after a certain age, it becomes harder because of the environment. It’s mostly like men go to work and like that, so but it’s going pretty well so far for Grounding.
M. Okamura: Yeah, I’m lucky.
S. Salis: And which is one game that you love to create and to experiment with? Do you have one game that you have been dreaming about? A new project that you don’t know about, or you would like, ‘oh I would really want to do something like that’, just as a concept, what would you like to work on? Which kind of specific game would you like to make?
M. Okamura: My dream is to make mixture of between healthcare and entertainment. So an especially for VR has kind of that sense –
S. Salis: Workout.
M. Okamura: Yeah workout. So to get healthy –
S. Salis: Sorry, so you’re dream is – you were saying, sorry. So which kind of game would you like to create? What’s your dream, to make what?
M. Okamura: So between game and entertainment.
S. Salis: Healthcare.
M. Okamura: Between and healthcare, or it’s like a new style of experiments.
S. Salis: So working on feeling well and having fun with the story at the same time.
T. Sakuma: Yeah, if you want to get healthy, why don’t you play the game at your home? You never know. Sometime some people have kind of like imagined they think playing a video game at home is not that healthy.
M. Okamura: Yes, I want to change that image.
S. Salis: Okay.
T. Sakuma: Yeah you never know. We’re gonna have a lot of opportunity or chance. You never know what kind of like things may be coming up with VR in the future, so especially like the VR is not only for the video game. You’re gonna be getting healthy, you’re gonna be more knowledgeable, you’re gonna be learning. You can do whatever you want in VR.
S. Salis: So that’s the goal of Grounding, yeah.
T. Sakuma: And at the same time, if you consider your life, it’s just like a game. Maybe you’re in a VR. You’re one of the characters in a VR. You’ll never know.
S. Salis: That’s the theory, the simulation theory in philosophy, the matrix theory right?
T. Sakuma: Right?
S. Salis: So you create VR games, what is your point of view on that? Do we live in a simulation like Elon Musk says?
T. Sakuma: Probably, you never know. Maybe we’re controlled by one of the Japanese guys. Yeah.
S. Salis: There is a Japanese guy in base reality that actually created a game called humanity.
T. Sakuma: Yeah, he were into like the Google, and imagine that we are three of the characters in VR. You never know, right?
S. Salis: So whenever you guys are gonna create that, let me know because I’ll buy one and create a universe branded by Grounding. A world made of Ulalas.
M. Okamura: Yeah.
S. Salis: And we’re gonna go in space stations. When are we gonna be able to play Space Channel 5 VR? Do you have a release date or a period of time?
M. Okamura: So we are ready for arcade version for Space Channel 5 VR in Japanese and also in English and also we are planning to release Space Channel 5 VR for consoles in near future.
S. Salis: Oh okay. So you’re gonna release very soon the arcade version?
M. Okamura: Yeah.
S. Salis: Like, by the end of the year? Or the summer?
T. Sakuma: Arcade version, actually we’re ready so as we’re here in LA this time, we want to introduce our –
S. Salis: Okay, but it’s finalized? It’s not a beta, it’s like final version?
T. Sakuma: It’s totally finalized.
S. Salis: It’s totally finalized.
M. Okamura: As an arcade version.
T. Sakuma: For the arcade.
S. Salis: The arcade version. Okay, that’s great to – how long is the game?
M. Okamura: It’s like fifteen minutes.
S. Salis: Okay, so the arcade version will be fifteen minutes to play at the most.
M. Okamura: Yes because fifteen minutes dancing is a really good exercise.
T. Sakuma: Actually I asked her exactly the same question, I said ‘fifteen minutes? For a video game?’ I said ‘hey, listen this is not the only VR game, this is Space Channel 5’. Seriously, if you were really into it, fifteen minutes, you’re gonna be exhausted.
S. Salis: Yeah yeah, that’s true. If you want to do it perfectly. You know sometimes, I just want to say that to me Space Channel 5, if you explain it, when I played, more than playing video games, there is so much freedom, songs and everything, that it feels more like playing a music video. It feels more like playing that because the better you play it, the better the choreographies are gonna be, the singing, and all of that. It is really cheerful in the previous one. Eventually you save the whole of humanity so there is a crowd of thousands, and thousands and hundreds of thousands of voices working towards that.
M. Okamura: Yeah, so our goal is to making a really fun and like fantasy game, not RPG, it’s like easily fun game for a global market so we are making a, not only video games, but also board games like Machpooro, you might know. So we are making –
S. Salis: Physical board games?
M. Okamura: Yes yes.
S. Salis: Oh I didn’t know that actually. So Grounding is not just video games but it’s like entertainment with that too.
M. Okamura: Yeah, I think you can buy Machpooro at Target.
S. Salis: At Target? Oh really? Well I’m gonna share the link and see if it’s available online.
M. Okamura: That’d be great. Thank you so much.
S. Salis: Yeah of course.
M. Okamura: So it’s really great market for family.
S. Salis: And Grounding wants to play with that too. Well Mineko Okamura and Takako Sakuma today on Hoomans. Okamura-san, Sakuma-san kyoo arigatoo gozaimashita.
M. Okamura: Arigatoo goazimashitaa! Thank you so much.
T. Sakuma: Arigatoo gozaimashita. Thank you.
S. Salis: Thank you. Ookini.