Tetsuya Mizuguchi recalls how a moment from a Swiss techno festival inspired Rez

Another approach to bringing people together through audio-visual 3D environments is provided by Tetsuya Mizuguchi, who kicked things off on the closing day. A pioneer of experiential music games, as well as founder of the band Genki Rockets, Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s credits include Sega Rally, Space Channel 5, Lumines and Child of Eden, but to connoisseurs of the genre he is best known for Rez, the seminal techno-driven shmup, which was recently reissued for PlayStation VR with the addition of a whole new expansion: Area X. In conversation with Edge editor Nathan Brown, Mizuguchi discussed his career stretching almost 30 years.

After studying aesthetics at university, during which he developed a fascination with the idea of synaesthesia, a condition that results in one sense becoming expressed through another, Mizuguchi joined Sega in 1990. As a visionary with an over active imagination and a non-technical background, he soon earned a reputation for making impossible demands of the programming team, but as he admits the disruptive nature of new 32 Bit technology meant, “We were all trying to figure out 3D graphics on our own.”

Although Sega Rally had a certain musicality and flow to it, as cars threaded and slid around muddy tracks of slick textures, an element that would anticipate his future work, Mizuguchi quickly tired of the industry’s pursuit of realistic graphics (not unlike the trajectory Ken Perlin took). With his background in the visual arts, Mizuguchi was more inspired by the abstract expressionism of pioneering painter Kandinsky, particularly his work ‘Moscow,’ which Mizuguchi admires for its attempt to express the sounds and atmosphere of that city in visual terms. One might suggest Mizuguchi attempted something similar in Rez, which was one of the first attempts to converge videogames with music in a serious way.

The origin story to this game is informative: whilst travelling to Zurich in Switzerland, Mizuguchi attended the Techno music festival ‘Street Parade’ where he witnessed 100,000 revellers dancing in a huge dome. Staring down upon the seething mass of people moving in unison to the music, the darkness and light rendering them into a single organic shape, this image would provide an inspirational primal scene that Mizaguchi would attempt to capture in his games for the rest of his career.

Rez, Mizuguchi states, was an attempt to bring together the satisfaction of jamming in a band, and riffing off other players, alongside the very controlled experience of DJing. In the latter scenario the dancers are passive entities following the texture and mood which is controlled by an active DJ, who Mizuguchi likens to a “god.” Recognising that “game design is architecture of human experience,” Mizuguchi set about systematise (or, in his words, factorilise) this experience, using the music to engage the player in a feedback loop of interaction.

“Maybe 10 years later I can show you something new… everyone playing together. Moving together.”

Mizuguchi imagined Rez from the beginning as a VR game, and its release was bittersweet as it would always be constrained by the flat screen. He admitted that his vision was curtailed by the limitations of technology: “We need to make the game in this world,” but the plan was always to return to Rez when VR tech become possible, and he was able to do this with Area X. In the meantime Mizuguchi kept experimenting, most notably with Child of Eden utilising the Kinect and player movement, but also more recently with the Synaesthesia suit.

Even now, Mizuguchi is still striving to recreate that primal scene of inspiration at the Zurich Street Parade, the gestalt experience of which lies tantalisingly out of reach. But, like Perlin and many others, he remains optimistic at the prospect of future technology improving the scenario even more: “maybe 10 years later I can show you something new… everyone playing together. Moving together,” he says wistfully.

Perhaps that image of togetherness that both Perlin and Mizuguchi are striving for in mixed reality ultimately sums up Develop; a time when the industry comes together to discuss, learn and unwind. This year, that sense of unity has become even more formalised in the attempt to create the British Games Institute. With experiments like Perlin’s Flock and Develop Beyond we are reminded that videogames (and games more broadly) are, or at least should be, a highly social activity about breaking boundaries and bringing people together. While it’s important not to be too naively optimistic, I can’t help but feel a sense of optimism from the show; in a world descending into ever more regressive tribal nationalisms rather than tackling serious systemic problems in a joined up way (global warming anyone?), games could be the thing we need more than ever to help us develop beyond our narrow selves and beyond cultural boundaries.