This year during E3 me and the Lead Programmer on God of War were standing in line for the most impressive game at the show - Heavenly Sword. While standing in line the Lead Programmer was talking to the person standing next to the game. Turns out that person happens to be SaiTong - the lead combat designer on Heavenly Sword. After playing the game me, Sai, and 2 other combat designers on GoW2 went outside to escape the madness that is E3 and to talk. Quickly realizing that Sai got 'it' and was one of 'us' I have tried my best to keep in touch with him even though we live 9 billion miles apart and are both trying to finish up projects. So I thought it would be kinda fun to interview Sai with a bunch of random questions that barely have anything to do with Game Design.
Twenty Random Questions
1. Is there a connection between food preference and game preference? Do you find vegetarians only like certain games?
Do vegetarians play games?? I like most types of games, any genre as long as it plays well. I also like pretty much any food with the exception of, salty tasting foods, cheesy badnesses and coffee (simply one of the greatest smells in the world only let down by its bad taste). The three great food badnesses in the world. Sultanas and Raisin almost fall into the category of food badness but not quite. I find it strange how many people would consider my three great badnesses to be the three food greatnesses of the world, bonkers the lot of them. Only joking about the vegetarians, I know several great guys who are veggies and are gamers too, bonkers.
2. Which game/genre started your obsession with videogames and is it still your favorite?
My first true game obsession was Street Fighter 2 as you may have well guessed, many years spent playing that game ant its iterations, but prior to that I would play any type of game. Currently the only games I really spend any time on are the pure top down shooters, roaming action RPGs like Zelda and the 3rd person action/combat games like Ninja Gaiden so I guess the traditional 2d beat em up is no longer my favorite genre but I would always chose a 2d fighter over a 3d fighter. 3d still doesn’t really work as a 1on1 in my eyes, at least when you compare them to traditional 2d fighters.
3. What is the biggest insecurity you have about your job?
It is when you have a solid game, or the possibility of a solid game, and just a few poor decisions can jeopardize the whole thing. Basically uncontrollable external influences that screw up your life that you have no control over. But then again, isn’t that life as well?
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4. What’s your favorite feature in Gamecube Animal Crossing that is not in DS? Vice Versa?
I never picked up Animal Crossing. I’m too afraid of certain types of games. It started with Pokemon. Playing that for a day solid and realising I hadn’t scratched the surface got me scared that the rest of my life would vanish in a pixilated mess. Animal Crossing sends out the same warning signs, as does any Bioware games after playing through Bulders Gate 2 for the third time.
5. Do you like to use cheats in videogames? Do you have a line you don’t cross and can you put that line into words?
I hate to use cheats ever in games to further my progress. I have never used a cheat to complete a game. Either I complete it or I don’t. There was one game that I did use to walkthrough when I was younger. Solstice on the NES, one of the most rock hard massive games that was basically impossible without help. But playing through it with my sister reading out what I had to do was still thoroughly enjoyable. The only time I use any cheat mode is just to have fun with the game, never to learn about sections I haven’t seen yet or to progress further than I would otherwise, unless I have already given up on the game and want to see what else there is.
6. If you could have any designer work on a completely different genre – who and which? For example Kojima working on a Madden game?
Tetsuya Mizuguchi mixing his rhythmic music oriented games with a vertical scrolling shmup from Cave. I always wanted to create a shoot em up with musically generated enemies and attack waves like how Vib Ribbon auto generated levels with any music you wanted to play. I would like Mizuguchi san to apply his touch to a DoDonPachi esq, Vib Ribbon game.
7. Do you have any other hobbies that compare to playing games? Such as cooking, playing music, sports, etc
I have three major hobbies that compare or dwarfs computer games.
One hobby is the world of photography, art and graphic design. I just love the visual world and the identification of ourselves through the things that stimulate us or the things we capture as an essence to understanding ourselves.
I love rock climbing. I love its technical and physical requirements on our bodies. I find rock fascinating, how a piece of rock can create a puzzle so addictive, so hard but yet so knowingly withing my grasp.
Above everything though is my love to design and build things. I have spent most of the year woodworking, building my friend a coffee table, myself a new type of chair, studying Japanese joinery to construct tables and fixtures. I build books and write short stories to fill them. I want to learn how to make tools, swords, knives, chisels, anything we use to create things or learn things or use things to make things.
8. Do you have a ‘comfort’ game that you always go back and play even if for a few minutes?
I have had a few comfort games in the past. I guess the most prominent of them is Street Fighter. This stayed with me for many many years but more recently it is the vertical scrolling shooter that has been my fall back game, DoDonPachi being the notable one.
9. If the videogame industry collapsed tomorrow what would you start doing instead?
I would do one of many things, work my way into the film industry as a camera operator or trainee cinematographer, work with friends in product or graphic design, become a carpenter, or retire from work altogether and be a bum for as long as possible enjoying the world by climbing, photography and building stuff for people.
10. Do you find being an Asian male has advantages or disadvantages (stereotypes?) in this industry?
I think people automatically associate you as some ninja geezer, either in a potential fight or gaming ability. It seems to me that people assume that Asians have innate abilities with the understanding or the creation of videogames, maybe we do, maybe I actually am a ninja.
11. What is your favorite non-video game?
I love poker, especially Texas-Hold-Em. I’m not very good but love it totally. Chess is another game I adore and am not very good at either but probably the most played game I play is Snooker. It is the most amazingly concentrated game I do that requires utter calm, concentration, tactics and above all, skill. But I’m no good at that either.
12. Is ‘Rundown’ the best movie either The Rock or Stifler will ever be in?
Haven’t seen that. Gonna check it out.
13. Who is your favorite fashion designer?
I don’t have any one favorite. I see fashion like I see music. Even the shittiest band can actually produce a tune that is amazing. All fashion designers produce great things and really bad things, some make more good than bad. Other make more bad than good. But finding the good stuff regardless of label is the most important thing. Recognising the bad stuff and learning from it is also good.
14. Do videogames have an, ‘Evil Dead’ – a game that is so bad that it is good?
I don’t know if you can call it the ‘Evil Dead’ of the videogame world but Nintendo World Of Soccer back on the NES is terrible but was one of my absolute favorite from the past. I just loved to walk the football over a rock and watch the AI trip up trying to get the ball, over and over again.
15. Do you have a favorite puzzle from any game you have played?
Playing the board game boss battle in Banjo Kazooie was an inspired piece of video game design. Maybe not my favorite puzzle, they go to the plethora of puzzles from the Zelda series, but the one that stands out head and shoulders being different.
16. What is the first section you go to when you walk into a book store?
Mostly the art and photography magazine section is my first port of call in Borders et al. Or maybe the new releases in the children’s picture book section, I love good illustration and gather a lot of inspiration from these picture books for graphical styles and emotional texture.
17. What do you listen to when you work out?
I tend to listen to rocky/dancy beats. Bands like Unkle or the Prodigy although they aren’t my first choice of music. I mostly love the more depressing music like that from Damien Rice, Snow Patrol, David Ford and orchestral music from the likes of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov.
18. Any book that has nothing to do with videogames that you would recommend to journalists to read?
Haruki Murakami. He is my favorite author by far. I would recommend The Wind Up Bird Chronicle, Hard Boiled Wonderland And The End Of The World and Norwegian Wood. His novels seem always to separate you from your space and turn you into an observer in the world, free from everything, as if you are in a tangent space watching yourself and the world breathing. Not many authors can inspire you to lock yourself in a completely dark confined space for a entire weekend with no food, only water, just to see if you can find that lost part of your soul.
19. When is the last time you cried?
When I dream. Dreams take you and extend you to places where you can not hide. They make you aware of the things you care most about and sometimes dreams takes you to situations that you wish never to occur but you live them, for that moment. We dream and we fine meaning from nothing, we wake and we nothing from everything.
20. If you could go back in time and see any band live, which band and what time period?
I would so much love to see Pink Floyd live, either when they released The Wall or The Dark Side Of The Moon.
21. You run into a friend shopping – which store is it?
W.H.Smiths. One of the UK’s largest newsagents/bookstore. I have a friend who works in New York and one day I got a missed call from his parents. Tried calling back but no answer. I proceeded to have an idea that my friend was back home from the US so I had the idea to go into town and walk into W.H.Smiths on the off chance I would bump into him.
Not knowing if he was even in the same country, after walking an hour into town, within five minutes of getting inside the shop, guess who I bumped into, bonkers.
22. Does your family understand what you do?
They know I make computer games but I don’t think they quite comprehend what it takes to make one and they especially don’t have a clue what my day to day tasks are and I don’t think I could ever explain without showing them over the course of a few days or weeks. My boss’ father once commented that we did not build Kung Fu Chaos very well because the environments would fall apart, not that we actually animated the arenas to crumble.
23. Do you think it’s time for Tigra and Bunny of L’Trimm to make a comeback record?
I just googled them and listened to a few previews and OMG!!! Kinda like a mixture of Mel and Kim and Daphne and Celeste (check them out). L’Trimm never made it over here, I guess it’s a bit of a blessing. Comeback record? Erm, I’ll rather lock myself in a pitch black hole for a weekend.
24. Is there a worse way to interview someone besides email?
I don’t think e-mail is a particularly bad way of interviewing someone. Torture I guess would be quite harsh, not in the spirit of getting to know someone. Although I have always wondered how much I could endure before breaking down and gibbering out anything a pressing torturer would ask for.
25. Someone comes up to ask for your autograph, which body of work do you hope they are not asking your autograph for?
I think I am still a bit too young to be ashamed of anything I have done in the past. I can’t actually think of anything that I have done that I would be really embarrassed by. I’m really just a good boy.
SaiTong Man is a Games Designer located in Cambridge, United Kingdom. He has this to say about himself:
"Worked in the games industry for four and a half years at Ninja Theory, formally Just Add Monsters. Only worked on one previous game Kung Fu Chaos (Xbox) and now currently Heavenly Sword (PS3). My current job focuses me on the general playability of the core player mechanics, e.g. combat. Game name Jeff all because of Jet Force Gemini N64 (Jeff and Barry Racing), but MaWoStMo is my new found tag."