Birthdays The Beginning Interview: Yasuhiro Wada discusses how we compose our own civilization
Written by Liam Edwards
During this year’s Tokyo Game Show, RPG Site had the chance to sit down and talk with Harvest Moon creator, Yasuhiro Wada about his new game, Birthdays The Beginning. Although in the past, Wada has been relatively quiet and doesn’t give out many opportunities for an interview, he seemed very excited to be showing off his new game.
Birthdays The Beginning is a brand new god/sandbox game that gives players the power to create worlds in which they can manipulate the landmass. In these worlds, creatures and life forms can live and evolve. Players change the landmass and temperature with the aim of creating an entire ecosystem.
In a very lovely hotel suite only five minutes away from the Makuhari Messe where TGS was taking place, we discussed Birthdays with Wada through a translator whilst he demonstrated and played the game for us.
RPG Site: Let’s start with the idea behind Birthdays The Beginning. I read in a previous interview you did, you liked the game Spore and that you wanted to make a game similar to that. The idea of allowing creatures to be created and modifying worlds in Birthdays seems similar. Is Birthdays The Beginning still inspired by those thoughts you had about Spore and the kind of game you wanted to make?
As a kid I always had an ambition to create a game like this. I’ve always been fascinated by games such as Spore, SimCity and Populus, lots of games like that. But I’ve always had ideas that are different to those games in how I would make a god-type game. Two years ago I had the opportunity to start something from ideas I had when thinking about this kind of game and that’s where this game’s idea came from.
In regards to how Birthdays The Beginning is set up, I don’t know of too many games where you go beyond the scope of being allowed to create more than just a town or a city. But in Birthdays you are creating a whole world from the very beginning of history with entire evolutionary lines. How do you break that idea down into an actual video game?
To backtrack a little. I definitely love the type of games that allow you to make a town or a farm and such. But I wanted to create a game that was different; I didn’t just want to copy those games. They definitely have influence in some of the ideas and creation behind Birthdays, but I wanted to create something new. This game feels like the accumulation of various ideas and influences I’ve had from other simulator games and my idea was to start at the very beginning and simulate everything instead of just one specific area.
Okay, so in game you are given a map and they come in a variety of different sizes to choose from, but you can only modify the map one tile at a time, correct?
Yes and no. At the beginning, in the tutorial area you can only modify one tile at a time. It is a very small map, but as the game progresses you can teach yourself to modify many things at once. The basic function of the game is to raise and lower the tiles in the map to modify the landmass.
In doing so, I noticed that the higher you raise the landmass the colder it gets and the lower you go the higher the temperature gets.
Yes. This is an integral part of the game, as the creatures all live at various temperatures.
Okay. Let’s talk a little about the use of square block tiles in Birthdays The Beginning. We’ve seen the rise of games such as Minecraft, Terraria and Dragon Quest Builders here in Japan. Have you looked at those games and thought, “That seems to work well, let’s see how they do it and go with that?"
Have you played the first Harvest Moon?
?So, that game was an X and Y grid-based game. Although 2D it had square based tiles that you could plot seeds and grow crops on. I’ve always thought to show that perspective in a 3D game it would have to be a square block system as we are now dealing with an X, Y and Z axis.
However, when I saw games like Minecraft and Dragon Quest Builders and how popular and well received they were by players, I felt like that was confirmation that games that use a block based system are generally a good idea.
That makes sense. Moving onto the game itself. What is the significance of allowing all of the creatures in the game to exist at once? Instead of having it work chronologically? For example, plankton coming first, then the dinosaurs, then after that more present day creatures like lions and tigers.
I didn’t want to make something that was like a textbook of the planet’s history. I wanted to create something that was fun for players and something that gave them the power to be a god, and to allow you to create different ‘What If’ situations. Such as, what if this creature lived with this creature and this creature lived with that creature. That being said, the game does follow somewhat of a chronological timeline, so there is some historical accuracy.
So the kind of Civilization V idea of being able to have things like tanks against...
Yeah, like that [laughs].
So for Civ, it’s a multiplayer game so it has to be a little more fun. Something like tanks vs pirates is fun from a multiplayer standpoint and gives it more appeal. For this game we wanted to make something that is entertaining for people who like history too. But, you as the player have the power to change the landscape at any time, this allows you to see what would happen if you changed something at any time throughout history. I feel that one of the biggest aspects of a simulation game is the ability to simulate what ifs and to see for yourself what would happen if you changed something or tried something different.
?So from the growing and evolving idea then, to what extent is the game going to go? Is it going to reach the point to which we are at now, with humans talking in a room about a video game.
Can you get to a point in which humans live? And if so, once you get to that point can you pass our own current time and progress towards space. Aliens perhaps?
?So while playing the game you find out that the ‘Ultimate Goal’ in the game is to make civilization. To create an environment for humans to live. But, a secondary goal. Well, actually one of the main goals is to document all of the creatures in the game. In the menu of the game, you’ll notice that there is a library that shows you all of the possible creatures and evolutions that are in game as well as the temperatures that they need to live. To unlock and capture all of those is one of the main goals of the game.
How many creatures, including all plant life and animals are there in total in game?
That’s quite a lot.
Playing the game normally and listening to the in-game guide, who is called Navi, you’ll probably be able to create a world that will allow you to see half of that.
I see that you can fast-forward time to progress the years in the game. I imagine this game varies between players in terms of length, some who will just hold down fast-forward to see what happens and others who will stop a lot to modify and check up on their worlds. How long roughly would a playthrough actually take?
I feel roughly, that to complete it normally it will take you between 25-30 hours. But, to complete the library and get all 300 creatures it could take you anywhere between 50 to a hundred hours. Right now if I play this game I can complete it normally in about 5 hours, but if I play it to completion by getting all 300 it still takes me 20 hours.
After you’ve set up a world then and you’ve manipulated the world to how you see fit to start with and then you begin fast-forwarding to see creatures evolve. To what extent can you interact with the world other than just modifying the landmass?
Well, changing the landmass is a huge part of the game. But there are actually 30 different items in game that you can introduce to modify certain aspects of your world and playthrough. For example, on a basic level there are items that allow you to modify the temperature in only certain areas of your world without having to change the land.
Can we talk a little bit about you then, Wada san. Birthdays is your very own project. You've spent a lot of your career developing games for the same series. How is it for you to now stray away from that formula you know so well and to work on something that's completely new and your own?
?I'm happy. Harvest Moon is basically my child or grandchild and I'm very happy to see it do well. But I am a creator and I like to hear comments about something I've created - it brings me a lot of happiness. So it's nice to hear comments about the new stuff I'm making.
Do you miss Harvest Moon a little bit?
[Laughs] not anymore. I get asked this a lot and my go to answer is that, it's my child and I'm happy to see it do well but I'm focused on other things right now.
On that subject of being a creator and hearing comments. With the recent rise in indie games, we've seen a lot of games inspired by Harvest Moon come through. The biggest example would be Stardew Valley. How does it feel to see other game creators creating games directly inspired by yours?
So what I can call my own creations is the games up to ‘A Wonderful Life’ on the Gamecube. There's a limit on how much I can personally put into a game. Games have to expand by taking feedback from multiple people. This is like an extension of that. People taking my formula and then adding ideas and elements in which I couldn't, it expands upon the potential of my original idea. It's really cool seeing that grow into so many different things.
Do you feel that the genre of 'Farming Simulator' is in the past for you now?
No. But also at the same time, I don't want to be my own competitor [laughs]!
[Laughs] Understandable! Now that you have finally created the 'God Game' that you've always wanted to create, is that it? Or do you have ideas for other games you want to make or other genres you’d like to try?
This is the beginning of the Birthdays series. If I were to measure this game, it probably has about 60% of all the ideas I have for the series, there are still many more things I would like to add. But, to answer your question about is there other projects I have ideas of. Well, I have actually just recently started a brand new project. My next game is nothing like Birthdays, but people who like my games will be able to understand that I created it.
??Ahh, okay! Birthdays The Beginning is scheduled to be released in Japan on January 19th are you on track to hit that date?
From a development standpoint we are ready to go. Unless a huge game gets moved to the 19th and we don't want to compete with them, we are very much on target.
That's good. In Japan you are working with Arc Systems to release it and for the English version, NIS America. Do you have any information on the release date of the English version?
*A NIS America representative stepped in here to answer*
Actually today we will be sending out a press release about the English version and the release date of the game.
*Although they stated it would be officially announced, the date still remains as ‘Early 2017’ for the west*
Ahh, okay then. With release being so close then and development on the main game having almost finished what are your plans going forward? Will there be DLC for the game?
Wada: Yes. What's almost finalized is the first DLC for the game. I want to give players the power to add objects into the world. Each player has their own play-style and everyone's world will be different, so I want these objects to change their worlds even further. As I stated earlier, this is just the beginning of the series.
Exciting. Thank you very much for your time today Wada san, enjoy the rest of TGS and good luck with the launch of the game.
Thank you very much!