After attending Anime Expo 2016, I had the honor of sitting down with creator of Touhou and the only member of Team Shanghai Alice ZUN. We met the day after the LA event in a San Fransisco tea shop to discuss his career and future.
I was able to attend ZUN’s Touhou panel at AX 2016 and was surprised to see one of the biggest rooms at the event being filled to capacity by fans. When ZUN took the stage, beer in hand, the crowd cheered and clapped as loud as they could. Even for some of his biggest fans, this was the first time seeing him in person.
So what is it about this Japanese game developer that makes him so special to so many people? The level of excitement in that room was definitely noticeable, and I could feel the love and admiration pouring from these loyal gamers for this one man who took it upon himself to create the games he wanted.
NIS America assisted with the translation of questions and answers.
Azario Lopez: When you started to make games in the mid-90’s, the danmaku genre was not well known, why did you choose this field as apposed to the easier field of just working in the game industry?
ZUN: Back then, the term “danmaku” wasn’t an actual game genre. However, because there were so many bullets on the screen, it was coming into place at the time. It was around the same that I created Touhou and thought, “If I can increase the bullets, this could be really fun to play”.
A: What are some of the changes you’ve seen in the doujin world from when you started to now?
Z: It’s fair to say that it’s completely changed, you can’t find anything that was being created when I first started today. The one thing that hasn’t changed is that people in the doujin community are still creating the things and the games that they want.
A: Do you feel that the games you first created in the beginning could still be played and enjoyed by players today?
Z: It might be fun, but it would be lacking in terms of systems.
A: Would you ever be up for returning to older titles you’ve created and re-release them?
Z: There’s a lot of requests for me to do this. However, I would rather spend my time creating something brand new instead of remaking something.
A: In the past you’ve had offers to have your games brought to digital download platforms, but You’ve refused up to this point, why is that?
Z: Making the game for me is funnest part, if I had to talk to people and tweak this and that for a digital download version, it would be a hassle for me and I would rather be making more games.
A: With so many characters in Touhou universe, fans must have a lot of opinions about where their stories should go, how do you shut that out and focus on where you want the story to go?
Z: To be honest, I don’t get too many requests in terms of where the story should go. Usually, I’ll just think of an idea and go with that.
A: What has motivated you to continue to create Touhou games for all these years?
Z: So I love the idea of working really hard and having people enjoy the game, but after everything is said and done, I love the taste of beer after the game is completed.
A: Even though your titles aren’t usually released in the West, you have a lot of Western fans, did you ever expect that to happen?
Z: I never expected it, even to this day, I don’t understand why there are so many fans. Even though my games are set in Japan, often it’s difficult for Japanese speakers to understand. This makes it even harder for me to understand how I have so many non-Japanese fans.
A: Do you still attend the Comiket trade sgow in Japan?
Z: Out of the two every year, I will go to one.
A: Has your experience at the trade shows changed over the years and how so?
Z: In the past ten years, I have seen more and more foreigners attending the show. Also, the attendees have gotten younger. Back in the day it was a little more underground and basically illegal. Nowadays, it’s more rule abiding and cleaner.
A: There was a Touhou game brought to America by Playism titled Touhou 14: Double Dealing Character. However, this game didn’t receive an English translation, was this intentional?
Z: I’ve been very busy, so I think that’s the way it’s going to stay. There are fan-made patches though.
A: Do you support fan-made patches?
Z: As a rule, I would say, “no touching original stuff!” But on the other hand it makes it more accessible to more people. So I guess I’m okay with it. Yea, I know about it, but I wont go out of my way to do something about it.
A: Was it intentional to create so many waifus?
Z: So originally, I wanted to put a character in the danmaku itself. Instead of bullets just flying everywhere, I wanted the bullets to associate with a character. I didn’t want to do a plane, so I felt like if there was a character with a story, each shooting out bullets in a certain way, it would be more attractive to gamers. So going back to the question, I didn’t actually try to make waifus, it just comes as a result of how I decided to make my games.
A: Did you expect fans to emotionally attach themselves to some of these characters?
Z: Even now, I don’t believe it.
A: Do you plan on working on Touhou for as long as you can?
Z: Easy answer is: Yes. Everything I do is going to be Touhou, it’s my life’s work.
A: When did you decide that this was going to be your life’s work?
Z: Probably, ten years ago when YouTube and video streaming became a platform. With that, I felt that I needed to come out more and show myself. Once I started doing that, I knew that my work moving forward will be set in stone and I couldn’t change it, that’s when I knew it would be my life’s work. That’s actually just the cool answer, to be honest, I didn’t actually plan it, when I quit my job at the game company I was working for to start Touhou, it just turned out this way.
A: Was there ever a time you wanted to stop?
Z: All the time.
A: And what brings you back?
Z: Probably, deadlines [laughs]. Making video games is a lot of fun, but from start to finish there are multiple obstacles to overcome and sometimes that’s overwhelming and could cause me to not want to do it. Although, once I finish, I’ll drink a beer and say, “alright, on to the next one.”
A: What would you say to someone who is making a game based in the Touhou universe, but is having trouble staying motivated?
Z: Well I’m not forcing you to do anything, if you want to quit, than quit. If you are having fun, then keep going, but if it’s causing you trouble, just stop.
A: Will we ever see more official Touhou games in the West?
Z: It’s something that I’ve been thinking about for a long time, and it’s something that I want to do. It really just comes down to finding the time to do it.
A: Is there anything you’d like to personally say to fans?
Z: With the upcoming releases of my fan-made games in the West, I would like the people who have just played the fan-made games to come play the original games.