Amid the noise and hype, we encounter some interesting, down-to-earth people on the E3 show floor. This week, we’re cornering a few of them for brief interviews that we’re calling Snapshots.
There are many reasons to be an independent. After years of working on blockbuster games, Jake Kazdal and Borut Pfeifer went rogue to make the weird, personal, and esoteric kind of games they wanted to play. Right now, that means putting the finishing touches on Skulls Of The Shogun—a strategy game about a samurai fighting his way through the afterlife. The pair have more ideas and much to say about working in the big leagues.
The Gameological Society: You went through a couple waves of funding on Skulls Of The Shogun, and an angel investor came in at one point. Who was that?
Jake Kazdal: It was my father.
Gameological: You hear stories about movie financing where groups of dentists fund horror movies. What’s your dad do and what’s the deal?
Kazdal: Well, you know, he’s an entrepreneur. He’s been an entrepreneur for years. He’s always had his own businesses and stuff. And he’s been pressuring me to do something on my own for a long time. He doesn’t know a damn thing about video games. But he does know that I know a damn thing about video games. So we had a prototype that Borut and I were already working on. It was already looking good. We were getting some interest in it. We decided we wanted to do it full time. He was the first person we asked. Suprisingly he said, “yes.”
Gameological: How did you explain the game you were making to your dad?
Kazdal: I didn’t explain the intricacies or the goals of the gameplay too much. I was just like, “Listen. We have a really cool thing. We can get some smart guys on board. We can make this happen. Just have some faith in me.” And he did.
Gameological: When did you and Borut meet?
Kazdal: We worked together at EA LA on Steven Spielberg’s LMNO project that got canceled. This big action adventure game. We had this super awesome team. It was core, really genius types. Randy Smith. Doug Church. All these guys. We thought it was going to be huge. And then it just sort of fell apart.
Pfeifer: That’s the thing. Look at places that people from the studio at time have gone. Randy founded Tiger Style.
Kazdal: Greg Kasavin and the Bastion guys. A bunch of those guys were from that team.
Pfeifer: And other folks from the studio, like [Journey producer] Robin Hunicke, went to thatgamecompany. So there’s been this kind of spread of cool little indie studios. And even a lot of the junior team members went on to work at Valve and Bethesda and all these top notch studios. It was an interesting collection of talent at the time. It’s a great memory, although I wish we would have shipped something.
Gameological: At what point did you settle on the setting for Shogun?
Kazdal: It was pretty early. It was the first thing I did was kind of sketch some stuff out. I wanted to do a strategy game. I lived in Japan for about five years. I love Japan. I love the mythology. I love samurai. It just kind of came together. And then I wanted to do some magic stuff. I was trying to figure out how we were going to work that in. What’s cooler than samurai? Dead samurai. So then all of a sudden—samurai afterlife. So as I thought about that, I was like, “Oh, yeah. This is it.” We can get away with anything, because its a game we wanted to communicate to the player in natural ways. With supernatural, everything gets easier. Anything can talk to you. We can have wacky, crazy characters and not have to explain how that would realistically happen. We figured that out pretty quickly and ran with it.
Gameological: Are you a Lone Wolf And Cub fan?
Kazdal: It’s the greatest manga—possibly the greatest written thing—of all time. Yes, I am a Lone Wolf And Cub fan.
Gameological: There’s that notion of meifumado—the path to hell.
Kazdal: Yeah, I’ve been reading a lot of that while I’ve been working on this. With this its the same sort of thing. He’s been betrayed. He’s on the path to hell. He takes no prisoners. He’s the best at what he does. He takes it very seriously. It’s a very goofy, campy game. But at his core, Akamoto is actually one of the more serious characters. He’s surrounded by goofballs.
Pfeifer: To kind of amp that humor up, we took some inspiration from our time at EA. The land of the dead is a land filled with bureaucracy. There’s this big line right at the beginning to get in. And he’s like, “All right. Screw this.”