TGS 2009: Interview: Little King's Story's Yoshiro Kimura

Yoshiro Kimura is the creator of Little King's Story, likely the only game in history to be the inspiration for a giveaway of one hundred hamburgers, one hundred bananas, and one hundred coupons for a visit to a spa -- all simultaneously.

We spoke to Kimura during Tokyo Game Show about the secrets of the Wii game, about that rather strange contest, and about a can't-miss concept for a game about an old man drinking on a bench.

Joystiq: I heard you're thinking about making another Little King's Story?

Yoshiro Kimura: Yes, of course.

Is it still in planning, or how far along is it?

Right now, I'm thinking about it. I actually have a concept in mind. Right now, we are still working on the business scheme, so it's still not official yet, but I definitely have it in mind.

Little King's Story
just came out in Japan, right?

It just came out in the beginning of September.

And Marvelous had the promotion with Burger King. Did you go eat a bunch of hamburgers to support the game?

On the tray, you have the paper sheet, you know? And because there were promotional illustrations on the sheet, I had to go to Burger King and eat there to get these illustrations.

So maybe you heard, we had the event with Burger King came up with the event, and they came up with the hundred burgers.

The contest winner, Suyama-san, as part of his prize, he got a hundred burgers, right?

In addition to the one hundred burgers, he also got a hundred bananas, and one hundred onsen tickets too. It was a tie-up with Burger King. Because the winner was the king, he needs to have the one hundred burgers, one hundred bananas, one hundred spa tickets.

Did he get that all at once?

Yes. (laughs) First, we thought of having a kind of board with an illustration with one hundred burgers and one hundred bananas, but we thought that was kind of boring, so we said, "No, bring one hundred bananas and bring one hundred burgers, so we really brought one hundred bananas and one hundred burgers." The winner is still eating bananas by the time we're talking right now.

And the bananas are a little...

(translator) Yeah, they're black.

Has that inspired you to make a game specifically designed to appeal to an advertiser?

First, I made the game, and then after I made the game, "Okay, we can make a tie-up with this sponsor."

Like, maybe a character just happens to really love Coca-Cola.

Maybe next time.

All of the kingdoms have one aspect that defines them. One is very gluttonous, and one is drunk. Is there one trait that defines Corobo's kingdom?

Cows. That's Alpoko's theme. Cows and Carefree Adults.

As soon as Corobo shows up, none of the people can be carefree anymore!

I wanted to create this gap. The Carefree Adults were just like kids, doing whatever they wanted, but now the king is here, they have to listen to the king like they listen to their parents. One of the topics I wanted to introduce with this game is, so you have this kid Corobo who has just become king -- what I tried to do with the Alpoko Kingdom was, so you have a kid who just becomes a king, a really high-rank person. But you find out that there are other kings in other kingdoms that are even higher than him, so that discovery -- the way he has to explore the other kingdoms to find out there are other people who are higher than him -- is what I tried to do with Alpoko Kingdom.

The philosophy behind it was, when you're a kid, you think that adults are really noble or above you. But in this case because Corobo, who is still a kid, becomes a king, he becomes higher than those adults and can control those adults, so that was that gap again that we tried to do with Little King's Story.

Most of the game involves not only learning about those other kingdoms, but conquering them as well. Is Corobo a hero for conquering these kingdoms?

Maybe he's a hero and actually, maybe he's a villain. Who knows? If you look at the other subjects from the other kingdoms, they were living the lives they wanted, and then Corobo is coming and invading their kingdom.

Fighting enemies for the sake of fighting. If you start thinking like this, it's kind of dangerous.

I think if the game wasn't so cute, he might be more obviously a villain.

You're right. One of the topics we discussed earlier -- what I wanted to do was create this gap. So you have this really cute king, but he's doing some cruel stuff. He's asking his subjects to follow him into the battlefield and die for him, and so it was really important for me to create this gap. That's why you see that it's a really cute game, with some serious topics, and some moral choices that you have to do.

It's pretty serious when one of your subjects dies and there's a funeral.

One of the really sad things about the funerals: if only one friend of the NPC who dies is there, it's even sadder.

I always feel bad when I go out to adventure, and I gather my royal guard, and half of them are dressed for a funeral.

Yeah, that's kind of sad.

You've said you wanted to add multiplayer in the next game. Do you envision people sending armies after each other, or going off to conquer the world together?

In the original concept for Little King's Story, I was considering having a two-player mode in it. What I had in mind was a cooperation between two players; one would be controlling Corobo and one would be controlling Howser, and each of them would be leading a troop of 15 enemies, and fighting enemies together.

One more idea I was considering was having Corobo riding Pancho (a bull), and one guy would be controlling Pancho and one guy would be controlling Corobo, who would be choosing the direction.

It was in the code, but it was really, really tough to debug, and so since we had to respect the release date, we had to take it out. So it's kind of sad.

Speaking of release dates, the game came out in Europe long before it came out in the US, and then Japan was last.

(Laughs) Do you think this order is weird?

It's unusual for a Japanese game to come to Japan last.

It was more or less decided pretty early in the development of the game. One of the reasons that we did that was that western players are more open to original stuff, more than Japanese users.

Ten years ago when I was making games, I wasn't really taking the US and Europe into consideration. Besides, because the US was often going to war or whatever, I didn't really like it. But now I really love the US and Europe.

When I created Chulip -- I don't know if you played this game, but it's really centered around Japanese culture and a Japanese setting, so I didn't really care about the US or Europe at that time. In those ten years, I started to go abroad often to Europe and to the US, especially Switzerland because I have some artist friends there. I go there maybe once every two years.

There was an exhibit recently in Switzerland,right?

Actually, it's been about 15 years that I've been going to Switzerland, so I wanted to celebrate that. And since Switzerland is more or less in the center of Europe, I could go to Germany, France, Spain, and other countries. When I started traveling inside of Europe, what I finally realized is that ... what I read in European books, The Little Prince or whatever, I finally started to understand where those books came from and what they are talking about. It was the first time for me that I started to feel the culture.

One that I'm doing when I go abroad -- for example, for No More Heroes 1 and 2 I went on a press tour -- the first thing I do when I go to the US is go to a bookshop ...

(At this point the translator takes a phone call and Kimura begins speaking in English)

So not only going to the US to find bookshops, but also going to Spain and France and Switzerland, I go to bookshops and I find special comic magazines or children's books. I gather these things -- I'm a terrible collector of these. Because children's books are so -- I can say spiritual, and very basic, and easy to read in each language.

(The translator returns, Kimura returns to Japanese)

Now at my place I have a lot of children's books. I've bought some in France, Spain, the US, wherever. I started to realize that there are different cultures outside Japan, as opposed to when I was working for Square. Now I understand why Square decided to put dragons in games. At that time it was, "Why is everyone doing that?" And the thing is, if I don't feel something about what I'm doing, I can't create new games or new concepts. It was really important for me to discover new cultures.

I'm often asked how to make games. I think you shouldn't just look at games to make great games. You should look around you. Find some ideas to come up with a game concept. What I like the best to get ideas is, around my place, there's an old guy who's always drunk and always chatting about everything. I like to hang out with him, and maybe get new ideas from him. This guy's, every day, drinking.

Little King's Story looks a lot like a children's book.

Of course it was done on purpose. I wanted to make it look like a children's book. If you look at games now it's always really photorealistic. Everyone's doing the same thing -- FPS or whatever with, you know, big huge fat guys. I'm not interested in doing this kind of stuff. I want to make something unique, different, that's why I wanted to create this children's book style, like for Little King's Story.

That's when I realized that one of the reasons Little King's Story didn't sell well is that users prefer to have those big huge fat guys.

So are you going to make a Big King's Story?

Macho King's Story.

He's just going to throw his subjects at the monsters.

There's a saying in Japanese that big guys are really fragile, like Beauty and the Beast. The next title's going to be based on Beauty and the Beast.

The next title's going to be based on Beauty and the Beast?

I'm thinking about it.

What are you working on right now?

I'm a producer on No More Heroes 2, and I'm working with Suda 51. Maybe a future Little King's Story sequel, and the secret project.

The secret project?

I can't say anything.

Is it about sitting on a bench drinking?

Maybe the old man is the main character.

What would you say to people who haven't bought Little King's Story yet, to convince them?

Look at the reviews on the web. They're right. And if you start to play the game, you'll realize it's a really funny game. People who already played the game: please try to push the title. Write something on a blog. People who haven't played the game: believe me, it's a really good game. If you can't find it in your shop, just order it on Amazon.