zato-title.jpg[In this in-depth interview, John Polson speaks with creator Himo about his experiences from Tokyo Game Show's experimental gameplay showcase Sense of Wonder Night and the design inspiration for his latest game.]

Many have played third- and first-person shooters. Not many have experienced second-person shooters, nor even have entertained the idea of what kind of game that would be. Fortunately, Himo has shared his latest creation, Second Person Shooter Zato (SPSZ), with people across the world via Kongregate.

Himo first received wide acclaim at the 2009 Sense of Wonder Night ("SOWN", an experimental gameplay celebration and critique) at the Tokyo Game Show, for his dialogue matching game, His and Her Disconnected Conversations. Himo released SPSZ in mid February 2011 and the game was quickly covered at DIYGamer, Indie Games, and finally GameSetWatch thanks to the tip of another SOWN finalist: Marcus Richert.

This interview was in many ways also made possible thanks to Marcus and is a testament to how the indie community helps out each other, transcending distance and language boundaries. Developer Himo broke down some of his own boundaries, pushing himself to the limit to bring his second person idea to life.

He heavily credits Unity’s ease of development for his success. His inspiration for SPSZ may seem simplistic to some; however, his discussion may just inspire others to look at commonplace images and tools in the real world and consider how to implement the perspectives they illuminate.

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Tell me about your experience at the Sense of Wonder Night. Has anything useful come from participating in this event?

This event was the first time my game was chosen for something so grand, so I was very happy. It was a great boost of confidence to have other people think that something of mine was interesting.

After SOWN, I came to study many things, but more than anything, I am thankful for the other people I met at the event. Even now, I am invited to go out for a drink and talk. If I didn’t have a chance to show my game to Marcus Richert [who was also a SOWN finalist] and if it didn’t appeal to him, I probably wouldn’t have received this kind of media attention. I think I am who I am today thanks to being involved with SOWN.

Regarding His and Her Disconnected Conversations, what lessons have you learned? Did the game really improve people’s ability to speed read, as was a design goal mentioned at SOWN?

I didn’t really learn anything special. It would be presumptuous for me to say anything about speed reading results. Unfortunately, I don’t have any actual proof on that.

Could you tell me about the origins of SPSZ?

The origin is that I felt that the image of a surveillance camera like this was interesting. With that, I had this vague image from before that I wanted to create a game where players can discern the circumstances of one space by comparing several different viewpoints.

However, I didn’t have an idea on how to make the best use of that idea, thinking “What do you in order to concretely grasp these circumstances?” Later, I had connected this idea with that of being able to see things freshly from a second person’s point of view, and so was born my second person shooting game.

Incidentally, when this idea came to me, I didn’t have the excitement of “this is a great idea!” Rather, I took the cold standpoint of “Hmm, I wonder how I can make this kind of game.” While I worked on the game, I gradually got more feedback and responses.

Later, I realized Unity had this big presence. Without Unity, someone like me who can’t program so well would probably not be able to make a 3D game. Even with this idea, I would have probably would have given up without Unity. For these reasons, I am very thankful for Unity.

Was the creation of SPSZ’s main character “Zato” influenced by the famous Zatoichi?

No, there was no especially conscious correlation. It wasn’t until before the game was almost complete that I decided that since SPSZ’s main character had the same inability to see, I would take only the name from Zatoichi. Of course, I really like the Zatoichi movie. I am a little surprised; there are more people overseas than I expected who know of Zatoichi. That’s makes me pretty happy.

Do you like first- or third-person shooters? What influences did these games have on you?

Like other genres, I enjoy and play these games. However, I don’t really know the finer details of these shooter genres. While I definitely feel there was some influence, I don’t think I ever felt there was a specific spot in the game that came from a direct influence.

Since I don’t think there are many people who have played an SPS game or are used to the idea, I decided to make the game as easy to understand as possible and simple to play. In this vein, more than like an FPS or TPS, I created this game in the image of action games from long ago. For example, I included mechanics such as using just arrow keys and two (mouse) buttons, and with three hits, you reach “Game Over.”

Why did you select SPSZ’s “nostalgic” graphic style?

Since this was my first 3D game, I had no real knowledge of 3D polygons and 3D motion. Above that, there was a contest deadline, and I didn’t have that much time. Therefore, without wasting a lot of time, even without much knowledge, I chose a practical art style.

I reflect a lot about the graphics decision. I especially think that in regards to the enemy character’s shapes, more variation would have been good.

Who provided the English for your game? Who suggested or helped out with getting SPSZ on Kongregate.com?

I did my own translations. A game with many words or characters would have been difficult, but I was able to handle this amount. However, I don’t have that much confidence… Are the enemy names strange? I can read English, but my written and spoken English isn’t that great.

I knew of Kongregate well, as I had played games there before. When Kongregate opened up its Unity Game Contest, I submitted SPSZ to it. Incidentally, my game was rejected during the first round.

What’s the indie scene like in Kyoto?

I live in Kyoto, but I have almost have no connection to the region, so I can't really tell. However, there are many artistic universities in Kyoto, so I think there is a great atmosphere of people wanting to try to create new things.

Where did you learn to make games?

I played games, read books, researched online, and observed daily. It was all completely self-study. I didn’t do anything special. If any special study groups were near, I would like to participate. However, those kind of groups (like SIG-indie through IGDA Japan) happen around Tokyo, so I can’t really attend them.

Have you already started thinking about your next project?

I want to create a game that surprises people all around the world. Speaking of this ideal, I’d like something for people to play regardless of age, gender, or other distinctions. However, I don’t presently have a concrete idea for that. For my next game, I hope I'll be able to build on what I've learned from SPSZ. When I make my next game, I’d be really pleased if everyone gave it a shot.

[The original Japanese text of this interview can be found on John Polson's blog. Follow John Polson on Twitter @JohnPolson.]