A decade after his epochal game REZ, game designer Tetsuya Mizuguchi releases a shooter, Child of Eden, which aims to stimulate your imagination through synaesthesia
It took Japanese Tetsuya Mizuguchi ten years to develop a successor of his game REZ, a first-person shooter that influenced a generation of game developers and garnered him cult status. Until today, REZ stands out for his minimalist esthetics and a techno score by acclaimed Japanese producer Ken Ishii that is generated by the user’s actions and builds up uniquely as he advances in the game. Mizuguchi is now stirring up the game world once more with Child of Eden, a synaesthetic game using Microsoft’s hands-free Kinect controller. With this, he follows in the footsteps of Russian abstract painter Wassily Kandinsky and artists of the influential German Bauhaus School. These pioneers used the concept of synaesthesia for their art experiments where they brought colours and sound together in order to achieve a multi-sensory experience. Mizuguchi objective was to create a contemporary equivalent and transform this feeling into an interactive game. To complete his work of art, he composed and played the uplifting Japanese pop (J-pop) score for Child of Eden with his band, Genki Rockets.
At its core, Child of Eden is a conventional shooter. In a world called Eden, an archive of human memories has accumulated. When it is under threat by a virus, users have to save it in order to restore peace. However, Eden consists of a kaleidoscopic space populated by fantastic creatures that, together with the synchronized music, evoke a visual experience of its kind. Moreover this game has been widely anticipated because it is the first to bring this concept to Microsoft’s Kinect. This hands-free controller for Xbox 360 is, in fact, not a physical con-troller. Instead, users play using their body movements and gestures that are tracked by a camera so that they can dive in completely for an amazing audio-visual experience.
We caught up with Tetsuya Mizuguchi to tell us all about games and synaesthesia:
How did it all begin?
Child of Eden began in my head as a poem, which eventually took the form of a 40-page free form expression of words. The game is an extension of the story and concept, which is in itself an extension of my life's themes.
A lyrical way to start. Where did you get the inspiration for the colourful shapes and amazing geometric patterns that populate the game?
Child of Eden is a world of techno-organic inspiration. You see familiar creatures combined with technology, and you hear electronic sounds and beautiful melodies. This is synaesthesia. Everything in the game is designed to match up and take you on a journey. Everything was designed to achieve that.
How exactly did you transfer synaesthesia into the game environment?
It was important to synchronize the music with the visuals in the same way as we did in previous games, such as Rez HD and [my last game] Lumines. Every action results in a rhythmic sound effect, so the player receives instant feedback and rewards. The better the user plays, the better things feel and sound. Eventually you don't feel like they're separate things, but one unified, synaesthetic experience.
With sound being such an integral part, explain the musical concept of Child of Eden, please.
With Rez I worked with a lot of great electronic artists, but for Child of Eden I wanted to change the tone. So I decided to use Genki Rockets, my musical outfit, to create the songs and soundtrack for the game. There are classic Genki Rockets songs as remixes as well as brand-new tracks written during the development of the game.
But how actually does the player interact with the sound?
By purifying enemies in the game in rhythm using the Tracer (rapid fire) and Lock-On Shot, you can create dif-ferent sound reactions. The sound is layered in very specific ways in Child of Eden, and expert players will cre-ate and enjoy a deeper audio experience.
Why did you choose the Kinect controller as the right tool for this?
I'm always looking for new technologies, because new technologies allow us to do new things. That's the way to push boundaries; to embrace this new hardware and to see what you can do with it. Even though we began Child of Eden before the Kinect was revealed to us it seemed like a natural fit. So it's not like we chose Kinect. Kinect chose us.
Designing for the Kinect, what has been the greatest challenge?
Getting the controls right. It's very challenging to design something that functions simply enough and respon-sive enough for many types of players to play intuitively. But we put a lot of work into the Kinect version, so it's really a great way to play.
Lastly, what can we expect from you next?
I always like to change direction after a project, so I may go towards a totally different type. But we have a good team here at [my company] Q Entertainment and many creators, so expect surprises from us always.
We are very curious, indeed! Thank you for your time.
Child of Eden will be released for the Xbox 360 on 14 June in the U.S. and on 16 June in the UK and Europe. The PlayStation 3 release follows in September 2011.
You can view the trailer here.