Yoshitaka Tamaki interview - Animeland #71, May 2001

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Yoshitaka Tamaki (Source: Dreamcast Magazine - May 7, 1999)

Animeland (AL): Mr TAMAKI, hello. Can you tell us how you got started in the video game industry?

Yoshitaka Tamaki (YT): I started when I was 18. Following a competition that I won, I worked for ENIX on games for PC-98.

AL: You've also worked in the anime and manga industry, haven't you?

YT: For the anime, I gave a little help to friends from time to time, that's all. In fact, when I finished high school, I took some university entrance exams, but I was convinced I had failed, so I told myself I was going to get a job, but instead I've been dawdling. At that point, Enix offered me a job and I thought: "Oh my! what am I going to do?" At the same time, a friend of mine offered me a job as an assistant mangaka.
What's more, I'd finally passed my exams when I thought I wouldn't, so I went to university too, but I gave up after a while.

AL: What kind of video games do you personally like?

YT: Me? Well... when it comes to video games, I'm the type who plays everything. Everything except puzzle games, which I don't think are much fun.

AL: You're currently a chara-designer. What are your influences in this area?

YT : I've been influenced by various designers and mangaka... But when I was a child, my parents took me to see Walt Disney's The Sword in the Stone and I really enjoyed it. I was in primary school at the time and from then on, I watched a lot of DISNEY cartoons and imitated them. Then, as an adult, I was inspired by HARA Tetsuo, who made Hokuto no Ken (Fist of the North Star). I'm a real fan: I started by reading the manga in the magazines where it was published, then I bought the whole collection and, more recently, Kadokawa published a "deluxe" version of Hokuto no Ken, so I bought that too.

AL: You left Enix to work for Climax quite quickly, didn't you?

YT: No, not so much: I started working for Enix when I was 18 and when I joined Climax I was 22. In between, for two years, when I was still an assistant, I also worked as a freelance illustrator. I wrote and illustrated children's books. The reason I went to work for Climax was that a certain Mr TAKAHASHI asked me to do monster design and character design for his new company: he was assistant director on a game in the Dragon Quest series and knew me, having been a member of the jury at the competition where I won a prize. I later found out that he had contacted several well-known character-designers but that they had turned him down, because it was a new company.

AL: You now have your own company. Why did you set it up?

YT : When I was working at Climax, there were various incidents that I don't want to talk about too much. I can't say that I'm particularly capricious, but I want to make games that players like, and it just so happened that the other members of the company and I didn't always see eye to eye, and in the end I couldn't do what I wanted at all. And when I was told: "TAMAKI, be patient", I could only do what I was told, because I wasn't the one making the decisions, nor was I the one taking responsibility in the company. So I thought I'd just set up my own company, Salamander.

AL: What does Salamander do?

YT: To tell the truth, we'd like to release a game, but we're faced with various problems: the PlayStation 2 hasn't sold as well as we thought it would, a game similar to ours has been released on Game Boy... In the meantime, we mainly do small jobs like character design, soundtracks and planning for other games companies. We also do some business. We don't really have any big projects in the pipeline at the moment, partly because we don't have any financial backing. Otherwise, as my speciality is simulation-RPGs, I have two projects in this genre at the moment and I'd like to see them come to fruition one day. I'm also drawing an RPG-style manga.

AL: Do you do a lot of subcontracting for other companies at the moment?

YT: Yes, for example we've been involved in the soundtracks for a wide variety of games such as Banpresto's Super Robot Taisen Alpha and Nec Interchannel's Favorite Dear.

AL: Your games Shining and The Darkness and Shining Force were very successful in France. Were you aware of this ?

YT: I'd only heard about them vaguely, but I'm really pleased! As we're not very well-informed in Japan, we're always surprised to hear about successes abroad. Conversely, I was also surprised that Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy didn't sell as well as they did in Japan. I admit that I can't guess what will sell well. As far as my games are concerned, for example, I thought it might be too difficult for customers. What's more, from a marketing point of view, we think of Japanese customers first and foremost, and we don't consider foreign customers. As a result, I'm also surprised every time people talk to me about my games because the character names are all different from the original names!

AL: Are you thinking of Lyle (also known as Ryle or Nigel) from Landstalker?

YT: Exactly! What's more, the cover illustrations are often redone, but that's down to Sega of America, who used to make decisions like that.

AL: You must have designed a huge number of characters for Shining Force. As it's a tactics-RPG, did creating so many characters pose a problem for you ?

YT: No, it was fun to design! Well, it was both complicated and fun. At the time, I agreed, thinking it would be a nice job, but then when I got home and thought about it, I said to myself: "Oh yes, if I remember correctly, there are 24 characters...", which is double what a designer normally does. Sometimes you also have to think about the character class changes that occurs at a high level. You have to redo all the costumes and come up with new attitudes. So I panicked a bit, but in the end, even though it was quite hard, I had a lot of fun creating all these characters.

AL: Where did you get the idea for Yogurt?

YT: (laughs) Oh, that one! It was originally something that was used for a graphical test for the developers. But it became the first character. In fact, I'd just scribbled it in pencil when the programmer said to me: "Please give me a design". I told him that I hadn't even drawn the heroes and that this design itself wasn't finished. He told me that it didn't matter, that anything would do, as it was just for entering graphic data. So I gave him whatever I had to hand. The character's name also comes from this beta-test phase: we came across the character 'yo', by chance, and it just so happened that all we could find were names of foods (beginning with this syllable). We came across "Yogurt" and that name stuck.

AL: It seems that this character was Climax's mascot for a while, wasn't he?

YT: Yes, that's true. But I have to admit that for me it was just a doodle, for tests, so I didn't feel like redrawing it. Climax must have really insisted that I redraw it and I was very reluctant at first, I wanted them to let me off the hook with this character! Since then we've seen him again in Climax Landers.

AL : Why didn't you work on the other Shining Force episodes?

YT: There were various problems in society, different points of view, etc. I didn't work on all of them.

AL: Is it for the same reasons that you didn't take part in Alundra 2?

YT : No comment...

AL: Who is your favourite character of all those you've designed?

YT: I think it's Ian McDougal, a Feda character with wolf-like features. I had a lot of fun drawing him and I like animals.

AL: By the way, why did you draw so many humanoids with animal features?

YT: First of all, I have a passion for animals. What's more, at the time of Shining Force, I was asked to draw a lot of different and fantastic characters, like bird-men, centaurs and so on. I also had an additional problem: I couldn't draw a man on horseback. It was quite a headache until I realised that all I had to do was draw hybrid characters, half-man half-animal.

AL: When you worked on Feda for Yanoman, you were credited as "director". What did you learn from this experience?

YT: It's true that when I was just doing chara-design, I found the work easy, but in the meantime I realised that it was more difficult to do what you wanted. It wasn't until a long time later that I set up my own company, but the difficulties I had at the time gave me experience.

AL: You've worked for a number of games companies. Are you still in contact with them ?

YT: No... Well, yes, with Climax anyway. But as it happens, when I was setting up Salamander, I didn't have the time to keep in touch. And even now, I'm very busy.

AL: Did you enjoy working with them again, and especially with your old characters in Climax Landers?

YT: Well, actually, everything went really well. I hadn't drawn those characters for a long time, and I have to say it was particularly enjoyable.

AL: What are your next projects after Climax Landers?

YT: I took part in the chara-design and did illustrations for an ASCII game, RPG Tsukūru 4. Otherwise I intend to work as a planner with my company. But I can't tell you anything yet. You'll know more soon (laughs).

A L: Which of the current consoles is your favourite?

YT: Personally, I prefer the Dreamcast. On the one hand, because it was made with game design in mind, it's very practical and actually makes it easier to create games. On the other hand, although I like 3D games, I also like 2D games and the fact that both genres are available on the Dreamcast is also an advantage from my point of view. Unfortunately it doesn't sell (Editor's note: The interview was conducted before Sega announced that it was discontinuing production of the Dreamcast).

AL: Do you think you'll reuse some of the characters you created for Climax in Salamander games?

YT: No, because I don't own any rights and so I could only use these characters if Sega and Climax gave me the rights.

AL: From a more general point of view, is life difficult for people working in the anime or video game industry in Japan?

YT: As far as anime is concerned, the truth is that we now outsource a lot of work abroad, particularly the work of the in-betweeners. And to use as few staff as possible, we're using more and more computers. What's more, in Japan at the moment there's a lot of talk about Zoïds, an anime featuring 3D robots, and it's true that generally speaking we're moving quite a lot towards 3D computer animation. So life must be hard for all those who make traditional anime...
A little anecdote: when I was working in manga, I had a friend who was in the anime business. I have to say that mangaka don't earn that much money, but they do get a monthly salary from their publisher, and as they don't spend a lot of their time working on their manga, they end up accumulating money anyway, so I had quite a bit of money. I hadn't seen my friend for a while, so I suggested we go out for dinner. He said ramen would be fine, so I told him not to choose something so cheap, but he insisted. So we went for a ramen and while he was eating, tears started to roll down his cheeks. I asked him what was the matter and he replied that it was just that he hadn't eaten for two days...When you think that a standard ramen costs 400 yen, you'd think that it's really hard to make a living when you work in anime! So I helped him a bit with his work.

AL: And you work mainly on computers, don't you?

YT: Not so much myself! I do my drawings in pencil, photocopy them and colour them in with felt-tip pens before giving them to the graphic designers. I used to write down the names of the colours in words, but that took longer than colouring directly with a felt-tip pen because you had to indicate the exact shade of the colour. For example, for the colour iron, if you want grey, you have to specify exactly which grey. On the other hand, for simple illustrations for magazines, for example, I sometimes work on the computer myself.

AL: Is this your first time in France?

YT : Yes, not only is this the first time I've been to France, it's also the first time I've been to Europe. In fact, it's the first time I've travelled north in relation to Japan's latitude - I've only ever travelled south before!

AL: What do you think of France?

YT: To tell the truth, I was surprised because I've already been to the United States and Australia and it seems to me that these countries are closer to Japan than France, geographically speaking, but I didn't feel out of place in France and I don't really have the impression that I'd left Japan! The landscapes, for example, of course, when you look closely, there are differences, but from an overall point of view, it's very similar... Oh yes, I noticed that there were a lot of dogs! And I was surprised to find that when you walk, people don't run into you, unlike in Japan.

AL: Any message for AnimeLand readers?

YT: I hope you'll be hearing from me when new games are released, and I'm counting on you to keep on playing and thereby encouraging me.

Interview by Daniel ANDREYEV and Eve CHAUVIRÉ. Originally translated from Japanese to French by Sahé CIBOT.

Yoshitaka Tamaki's profile
Profil (en français)
Games he has worked on
Other video game related works
Gallery Part 1
Gallery Part 2
Gallery Part 3
Gallery Part 4
Gallery Part 5

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