After that, when did you hit that turning point of beginning to work on your own, independently?
First, very soon after I'd transferred to Riverhill Soft, I was allowed to become a main programmer. I was about twenty-four.
Your work history was short, but you'd been programming since you were a kid, so you were a veteran at it.
That's right. Of course, I still had a lot more to learn, but the programmers who'd been there longer than I had put in a word with the company for me to be a programming lead.
I see. So, the people around you put in a good word for you, and you were given a chance at a young age.
Yes. And after I'd made about two products, I have no idea what I was thinking at the time, but I went to the president of the company and said, "From now on, it will be the era of 3D." (laughs)
And what year was this again?
Let's see… It was about seventeen or eighteen years ago, I think. At the time, there were a lot of 3D graphic games in America. Back then, the Super Famicom (Super NES) system was synonymous with games in Japan.
The era before the PlayStation system made its appearance.
Right. I saw these 3D games from overseas, and they looked incredibly interesting. So I said, "In the future, people will be able to play 3D games in Japan the way they're doing overseas, so take me off the current development projects and let me research 3D on my own."
You were sure that the future lay in this direction.
I was. So I started researching 3D by myself. Then, before long, the PlayStation system came out. Finally, there was an environment in which I could make 3D software, and I became the director of the project team. After that, I left the company and formed LEVEL-5; the members of the team who had worked with me became its nucleus.
Above all else, I wanted to do something new. For that reason, I thought it wouldn't be enough just to stay at the company and take orders, but I didn't think I'd be able to go independent. Just then, by chance, I happened to form a connection with SCE,16 and they asked me if I'd try making software for this new piece of equipment, the PlayStation 2 system, which hadn't yet been released. When I asked them to let my team do it, they told me, "Well, set up a company." So I decided to set up a company. 16 SCE: Sony Computer Entertainment, Inc.
How many of you were there when you set up LEVEL-5?
Nine of us at first, but there were eleven before long.
Where did your company name come from, LEVEL-5?
LEVEL-5 means "five stars" in school report cards. A five in school report cards is used as a metaphor of the highest mark possible, and that's the sense in which we used it. So, it signifies our ambition to make high-quality, five-star software.
So when you began your company, you included your determination to make things that the game players of the world would value in its name. To be more accurate, then, you didn't intend to go independent to begin with; in a sense, the company was formed because someone gave you a little push.
Only, although you'd led a team inside the organisation before that point, when you abruptly began to run your own company, didn't you run into lots of things you'd never thought of or done before? Didn't that get a bit rough?
Yes. Yes, it did. I read lots of books about accounting for companies. I had to pick up lots of knowledge about things other than making games, so I studied many things. I didn't even know how to register the company, so it really was hard.
And in what year was LEVEL-5 established?
In 1998. We registered LEVEL-5 when I was 29, and the company actually began to work just as I was turning 30. Thinking about it now, it feels like the distant past. I really must have had a lot of energy.
You were very clear in your own mind as to what you wanted to do; in order to do it, you worked like mad, and as a result, before you knew it, you'd started a company.
Yes, the one thing I've always been is active. Once I think something should be a certain way, I just go for it, barging straight ahead.
So you didn't think it over thoroughly and then act. Your intuitions told you that the future lay in this direction, so you just kept moving and would see what would happen.
Right. And that hasn't changed, even now. It feels as though after we set up LEVEL-5, I've learned alongside the members who started the company with me, and we've all kept growing into what we are today.
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