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Originally posted here: [1].

Mr. Tsuchiya, who 10 years ago made a plan aiming at making the real world communicate with another adjoining world - virtual characters, talk about what "Ciel nosurge" achieved.

It has been 4 years since Kizuna Ai debuted in 2016, and the VTubers' activities have been growing with every passing day, with the uprush constantly accelerating. Now that communication with digital characters has become commonly accepted, we can see their activities in a variety of platforms as if it were natural. Even actual communication with AI characters seems like it'll become a reality and will be greatly accepted sooner or later.

However, there was a person who eight years ago formed a plan to represent a "world that truly exists" in a home console game, made a digital character for it, connected the real and virtual worlds, and created a community around it. That person is Mr. Akira Tsuchiya, who is currently Senior Manager for the Gust Brand at Koei-Tecmo Games.

Mr. Tsuchiya handled a game released in 2012 called "Ciel nosurge: The Song Offered to the Lost Planet" ("Ciel nosurge" henceforth), in which its core was the communication between the characters in the game and the player, which still enjoys a strong support from its passionate fans. However, the ambitious efforts behind this title aren't widely known.

And we think this is a title that should enjoy a time in the spotlight once again in 2020, to be reevaluated and discussed once again. Koei-Tecmo Games has announced they will be releasing "Ciel nosurge: The Song Offered to the Lost Planet DX" and "Ar nosurge:The Song that Prays for the Newborn Planet" on 03/04/2021 for PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and Steam. They had also previously released them in 2014 for the PlayStation Vita (PS Vita henceforth) under the titles "Ciel nosurge OFFLINE: The Song Offered to the Lost Planet" and "Ar nosurge PLUS: The Song that Prays for the Newborn Planet" as high definition remasters, which included multiple of the DLCs that had been previously released, and with both titles sharing a common world setting.

Both titles are called by the common name of "Surge Concerto", so in anticipation of their remaster releases, we have decided to ask Mr. Akira Tsuchiya, who served as their general producer, once again about what he wished to represent in "Ciel nosurge".

Listener: TAITAI Writer: Ito Seinosuke Photography: Masuda Yusuke

I Wanted to Construct a Community as a Tool for Players to Not Stop Playing the Game until the Next Game was Released[]

--We have the impression that you made something pretty advanced for the time "Ciel nosurge" was released in 2012.

Mr. Tsuchiya Akira (Tsuchiya henceforth):
I think it's because of that sensation it gives of "not being a normal game" (lol).

--We didn't understand it at the time, but now we look back on it, we do get that "I see" feeling on some parts. It's because of that we want to use this interview to use these parts of "Ciel nosurge" to make widely known once again the aims you achieved to fulfill with the game.

Starting off, the iPhone had been just released by the time you were planning "Ciel nosurge", but the timing meant that most people wouldn't have owned one back then, right?

Mr. Tsuchiya:
I framed up the plan for the game in February 2010, but it's true not as many people would have had one as now.

--That's why we think it must have been a pretty adventurous game to make, and that making it with the sole purpose of moving copies around must have been difficult, so how did you convince the management of giving it green light?

Mr. Tsuchiya:
That was written in the very first page of the initial pitch I wrote for the game, where I laid my intentions bare by saying that one of its goals was the "creation of a community".

--The "creation of a community"?

Mr. Tsuchiya:
Yes. Up to that point, we made RPGs with me as the director, but back then I suddenly had the idea that "we would be living in the Network Age from now on".

Like I said before, at the time I made the initial plan for the game we were in the middle of the time period where Japanese traditional feature phones were replaced by smartphones. The feature phones only had email and rudimentary web browsing capabilities, while smartphones instantly expanded the user base of SNS such as Twitter. It was there that players could exchange impressions of the same game they were playing and get excited about it together. I thought that if we could deliver information at any time through the SNS and smartphones, we could compensate for the weak points of the game. --What are these "weak points" of the game you mentioned, Mr. Tsuchiya?

Mr. Tsuchiya:
I think it's that the titles for consumer-oriented series tend to have a release frequency of 1 game every 2 or 3 years, although Gust has sometimes a frequency of 1 game every year. There is great excitement when a new game is released, but once they finish it, most players naturally tend to start playing something else... and when they do, they tend to forget everything about the game they had just finished. Of course, there are also passionate fans who keep waiting a long time for a new entry in the series, but the players who just think "it was kind of interesting" end up playing a different game by the time a new entry is released, and their memories of the game fade away.

The "Atelier"</span> series may be Gust's main product nowadays, but there was also a time when its sales kept declining. When we tried to ponder the causes for it, we came to the conclusion that it was because "the customers weren't coming back". It was then that I formulated the idea that "if we begin with a game and then follow up with constant content updates, the customers won't abandon us". In this example, even customers who started playing a different game wouldn't be a problem, as we would keep interacting with them constantly through the content updates, so I thought that constructing a community would be of extreme importance.

It was in this way that the "Ciel nosurge" game was planned, not as a game, but as a proposal that still hadn't taken proper shape as a game. After "Ciel nosurge", we released in 2014 an RPG called "Ar nosurge: The Song that Prays for the Newborn Planet", but "Ciel nosurge" was a tool that had the goal of constructing a large community for "Ar nosurge". It might be very misleading to say it like this, but it wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that about half of it was made under the idea it was made as a PR tool.

--That was your intention for it from the planning stage?

Mr. Tsuchiya:
Yes. I wrote as much in the initial pitch for it.

In "Ciel nosurge", you get in contact with the "Surge Concerto" world, and after we constructed a community to increase the number of fans, we would follow up by saying "there's an RPG called "Ar nosurge"", which would catch the interest of many people and would make them want to get their hands on it. Furthermore, I had planned as well to continue supporting them both for a certain period of time, which would lead to something new being made for it.

In short, it's a consumer-oriented game that doesn't lose its value. It's a model in which fans wouldn't stop playing it until the next game was released, and instead we would be getting more players, so we would establish a community. That was the first plan I had in mind when I planned "Ciel nosurge".

--I see... To be honest, I understood "Ciel nosurge" to be more like "Love Plus" or "Seaman", in which you can enjoy communicating with a character. And now we're talking about this topic, did you put any game design tricks in Ciel nosurge for the players to establish communication with each other and build a community?

Mr. Tsuchiya:
Yes. "Ciel nosurge" is divided in two parts: the "Communication Part" and the "Dream World Part". And in order to follow Ion's story through the "Dream World" part, you need to raise fairies called "Sharls". That's what I actually made as the game's 'communication element. It was all structured, so you could bring in the Sharls your friends have raised as "Helper Sharls", and have them join forces with your own Sharls to repair ruins to continue advancing through the "Dream World" story.

These fairies called Sharls are produced by scanning the barcodes attached to all sorts of items with the PS Vita camera. So if multiple players owned the same item and scanned the same barcode, they would generate the same Sharl from it. And so, we added community functions into the game such as a message board in which all the players who owned the same Sharl could interact with each other.

In other words, players that had the same Sharl had an exclusive message board for them, and they would all raise that same Sharl together. They would hold all sorts of conversations on the message board while caressing the Sharl, which would then be accumulated in a cloud-like way, and the Sharl herself they all had would level up. That's the sort of functions we had. The communication element was a function aimed at making everyone excited.

--I see.

Mr. Tsuchiya:
And separately from that, I thought we should prepare "a partner that will talk to you" to ensure players would start up the game every day. That's the character Ion.

Continuously talking to Ion or coming to see how she was living her life, and forming a fan community that exchanged information with each other, so by having both parts come together, we would have the players playing "Ciel nosurge" for their own reasons every day. That's the sort of concept we had in mind for it.

--Was there any difference in the reactions to "Ciel nosurge" from the reactions to the other games that Gust has released?

Mr. Tsuchiya:
Yes, there was. It became a hot topic.

But it was just a hot topic that said "the character Ion is so cute". Afterward, it became a featured game in places like the PlayStation Store due to it having been released shortly after the PS Vita's launch. That's why we also had some nice opinions from the players which stated things like "I don't really get this game, but I'll try it out because Ion is so cute".

I think getting across the concept I outlaid above may have been pretty difficult no matter how I tried to explain it. That's why a large part of the opinions on the game were of the sort "I don't get what this game is about".

The "Ar tonelico" Fan Site Contents were Made and Published without the Authorization of My Superiors[]

--Did you use anything as the template for this business model at the time?

Mr. Tsuchiya:
I didn't reference the products made by other companies at all. If anything, I'd say there are no other titles out there that employ this model.

But if I had to say I used anything as a template, it might be kind of different, but the preliminary steps were the attempts at all sorts of things I did to construct a community through the company's website. We could say this work is a more advanced version of it.

The RPG "Ar tonelico" <(※) that was released by Banpresto (Bandai-Namco Games nowadays) was a work in which I served as director. This game was also made in about a year and half, and to ensure players wouldn't leave in the middle, I made the fan site known as the "Ar Portal". I'd gather the submissions sent by the players every week, have the characters respond to the players' questions, sell goods through it, hold questionnaires, and plan all other sorts of things for it.

There were many players with blogs back then too, so I also made the "Supporters' Link" system at Gust. By registering there, players could post links to their blogs. We also made available to the public the new game screenshots we provided to gaming magazines, saying that as long as they added the proper copyright information, they "were free to use them in their websites however they wished". That's how I made something that "built a community while making us all spread word about the games", which I think had a significant impact on the reactions.

※"Ar tonelico"
An RPG series that was developed in collaboration between Banpresto (Bandai-Namco Games nowadays) and Gust (Koei-Tecmo Games nowadays), which is comprised by three games released between 2006 and 2010. Mr. Tsuchiya Akira was the director for all three games. These games are connected to "Surge Concerto" through their systems and world setting.

--You were a pioneer in the community management field that has become so natural in the current game industry, right?

Mr. Tsuchiya:
Though the ideas I had at the time were to bring the games and the Web closer to each other because they were so separate. The conclusion I got from pondering it was a "well, how about also putting the Web itself into the game?" idea, which led to the creation of "Ciel nosurge".

When I looked at the social games the other companies had made back then, I noticed that "the main part is the community, while the game is just a communication tool", so I thought I wanted to make something close to that. So by making it a home console game it would have a certain level of quality, and I just added community elements to it as extras. I thought that I wanted to construct a community by employing a reverse approach.

--I think it's pretty rare to have a home console game developer that has the aim of constructing a community like that. I think it must have been especially rare back when the new 10s were starting, so did you have any reason for having such ideas back then?

Mr. Tsuchiya:
I had two reasons. The first is because I love looking at our players' reactions.

I started working for Gust in 1998, and my debut game was "Atelier Elie: The Alchemist of Salburg 2". Back then I was in charge of the sound, but even back then I loved reading at the players' impressions. It always made me happy to read their voices and feelings, and somehow incorporate them into my next work. And having players become fans of my titles in that way made me quite happy. Back then, Gust pretty much had a homely atmosphere, and thus their website was also made in a way that players could enjoy it.

The second reason is sales numbers. Between 2000 and 2006, the larger companies put out a lot of games that were large hits one after the other, while on the other hand Gust was still growing, so it was a time when we still had a hard time getting out large products.

We thought back then it would be great if Gust could somehow survive all this, but the conclusion I reached was that we steadily needed to add more to our products, so our current players wouldn't abandon us. If 100,000 people could buy every single game we released, Gust could continue making games for a long time. It was truly important for us to construct a community because of this, and that we could have our current players continue supporting us forever... it's just an approximate, but these were more or less the policies we wanted to implement.

I combined both of these ideas to create my base, and like I explained before, I made all sorts of contents for the website, which ultimately led to the development of "Ciel nosurge".

--What kind of reaction did your ideas receive in Gust back then, Mr. Tsuchiya?

Mr. Tsuchiya:
They thought I was being a real weird guy (lol).

--Were you criticized for it?

Mr. Tsuchiya:

I didn't get criticized for it. I mean, I made all of it in the first place. It was all like "this guy is doing something we don't understand, but somehow the web page is steadily growing, and well, it's not like it's a problem anyway".

--Did you have a budget or something when it came to the activities for creating a community when it came to the web site and the like?

Mr. Tsuchiya:
Things were a lot more lenient back then. This is unthinkable nowadays, but Gust was a company that could put food on the table only thanks to the yearly "Atelier" releases. "Ar tonelico" was a year and half release, so we could say it was like extraordinary revenue for us.

Done this way, we released an "Atelier" game in six months, and we had two to three blank months until the work on the next "Atelier" installment started. We couldn't release more than one game per year, so we all had time off until that moment. Now this is strictly forbidden, but back then we'd go work at the company even on the weekends, so we'd take a month off to make up for that overtime.

The website back then was also just me doing the things I wanted, so afterward I'd tell my superiors that "this is just something I wanted to try making". And I kept doing it over and over.

Naturally, I'd also do many, many things while I was making a game, but when I wasn't working on one, I'd use the web to just keep making things I enjoyed which could also bring some profits to the company.

I Thought that "Making" and "Selling" Games were the Same[]

--From what we have talked thus far, I think you're the type that doesn't just get preoccupied with the game itself, but also with the development of everything related to it. So, how closely did you supervise things such as the development of the PR materials?

Mr. Tsuchiya:
Lately it has been pretty hard, but when I worked on "Ar tonelico" and "Surge Concerto", especially in "Ar tonelico" I thought "making and selling were the same thing".

For "Ciel nosurge", it was special because this was the first test I was doing of it, so "I wanted to generate a lot of interest in the audience!" for a lot of topics, which proved to be too much for me to handle alone. In "Ar tonelico" I had the help of the Banpresto PR department, but in "Ciel nosurge" I had to do all the advertising myself. It was then that the current Gust Brand president, Mr. Hosoi (Junzo) put a lot of advertising out for it. He had a talk about how "we'd start it off" together.

First we were dead set on the idea of "putting out advertising and some of the content", so we made a drama CD for the advertising, held some talks about the planning process, and we put it all, even the game itself into the title's world and unified it. Therefore, I had to think of the business advertising and the advertising to show off the world setting as separate things.

I have made comments on this as a developer before, but when it came time to describe the world setting, I created the character of the Seven Dimensions researcher "Mr. Akatsuki". If we include this, we could broadly generalize the "Ciel nosurge" management as a roleplaying game or something close to "make-believe" for us. It might have looked pretty ridiculous for the people who didn't get immersed into it, but on the other hand, I think it must have been very immersive contents for the ones who did get into it.

--Considering the latest smartphone games and social games, it doesn't seem that the story must necessarily be only in the game itself to be enjoyed by the players. There is plenty of excitement to be had when new information is revealed in internet broadcasts, which also includes the excitement when a new character is unveiled, and it is amazing that it allows players to experience it as if they were personally in the event.

With so many types of contents and information available now, the surviving IPs can't hope to compete in just a dot and dot basis anymore. Unless a strategy is made to connect these dots and make them into lines or surfaces to form a set, it won't be possible to decide survival based on the volume of information regardless of the strengths or weakenesses of the product.

Mr. Tsuchiya:
I agree with you. I had these same ideas when I came up with the "fan site for connecting the players together" for "Ar tonelico", and when "I developed "Ciel nosurge" as a continuation of it, and sent out "Ar nosurge" as an RPG that has its same world setting".

Like I said before", back then the idea was "to not let the fire go out". Once the fire goes out, igniting it once again will need a lot of time and effort. That's why my policy is to try and retain the customers we've gained by any means possible.

--You are so proactive in communicating with the players, but you don't engage with them in Twitter or elsewhere, right?

Mr. Tsuchiya:
I have an account, but I have never used it even for whispering. The reason is because I am a game creator, the claims I make in my personal account may lead to negative impressions for the games I make. If I slip up and make any ideological claims, it might lead to prejudiced views being spread of the type "so the person who made this game thinks like this, huh?", and that's something I've feared for a long time.

I want to distribute a lot of information on these games, but given there are a lot of ill thoughts like "so you truly think like this?, "so you normally do this sort of things, huh?", I have the feeling it may end up throwing shade on any contents I put out. I've had the urge to post a few tweets now, but that feeling still remains strong... and each time more accounts get created (lol).

Obsessed with Making a "Truly Real World" that Exists on the Other Side of the Real World[]

--Being able to play and enjoy communicating with a character like "Ciel nosurge"'s Ion is something I've thought about doing many times since long ago. It is possible we may enjoy greatly communicating with characters endowed with artificial intelligence in the nearby future, but we're still in the middle of a transitional period.

For example, the way the VTubers have been received: there are people who ultimately enjoy them as characters, while there are others that communicate with them while keeping in mind that they are talking to the real persons behind them. So, which of these two points would be the one you have, Mr. Tsuchiya?

Mr. Tsuchiya:
If you mean about which kind of stance I have in regard to how the customers perceive a VTube as a virtual reality being, I'd say I think pretty differently from them.

I was previously in charge of managing an app called "Augmented Reality Girls Trinary" (※), but it was also similar to "Ciel nosurge" in that the type of contents of it was the player conversing through the screen with girls that exist in a world different from the player's. Even these contents have a gap between the players' stances toward them.

But whether the players see it just as a game or as girls that actually exist as real people in a world beyond the screen, that is also part of these players' lives, so either one is right to me. Therefore, even if I have said "please don't call them characters, as these girls actually exist", I have no real policies to give to the players when it comes to enjoying these contents. Every single player should enjoy immerse themselves into them through their own stances, and I don't want to impose a way of enjoying them upon anybody.

What I have always wanted to do is "create a world". A tremendously real world that truly exists beyond our real world, and which we can look into through a window, like for example, "Ciel nosurge", where can see a girl called Ion lives in there. So more than creating realistic characters, I want to create a truly real world that includes such characters.

So when the players are tired and fed up with things in our real world, they can go to the other world to talk with the girl there, and go to the room in there. That's why I want to create a truly real world, one where players can escape to in a good sense.

※"Augmented Reality Girls Trinary"
A multimedia project that was developed in collaboration between the Koei-Tecmo Games Gust Brand and Toei Animation.
It was released in 2017 as a smartphone app and a broadcasted anime series (the app has ended its service now). It tells the tale of girls called "Trinary" which fight to solve the large cocoon "Phenomena" that suddenly appear on the Imperial Capital.

--What kind of things did you need to do for your objective of "that world is real"?

Mr. Tsuchiya:
The thing I was the most thorough in making was defining the position the other world has in relation to this, our real world. That's the most detailed part I made for the setting.

For example, in "Ciel nosurge" I went to the level of drawing up astrophysics theories on the same level as superstring theory to indicate how the other world connects with ours and how the communication between them is structured. However, that's not necessarily explained in the game itself. It just says "It connected," in a way that feels similar to communication handled by electromagnetic waves.

But for the players who love that sort of detailed setting, they'd end up wondering "How is the connection handled? In which way could we say that the world on the other side is real?" without me having to prompt them into doing it, and thus they'd dig deeper into the whole thing. If the setting was poorly defined at that point, they'd just go "this whole thing is just fiction". That's the outcome I want to avoid the most, and thus I wanted to prepare everything to prove it's a convincing reality that won't break down no matter how deeply they dig into it. By doing this, I can continue claiming that it is a world that truly exists parallel to your own world. We've had a few chances to show the theory behind it, but that's the part I place the most importance in when I work on the setting.

And for players that say "I don't need that much convincing," you can stop researching then and there, but the ones who like to dig deeper will continue going even deeper. That's the sort of feeling I went for: that I wanted to prepare an environment that feels real no matter how deep or shallow you dig into it. For me, that's the most important element.

--Why is it that you place so much importance into it?

Mr. Tsuchiya:
Because I don't want to wake them up from this dream. I think we've all had these times when we think something, and unexpectedly we return to our senses and cool down. Of the sort of having accumulated so many feelings of "this is real," to then have all enthusiasm cool down all "Ah!" the instant we realize there's even a single flaw. That's the sort of players I don't want to make my games for.

That's why for Ion I compiled everything into a database to ensure that no conversations would have contradictions with things that were said before. I wanted to remove all factors that would shatter the "this is real" feeling. And I was as thorough as I could with it.

--Like for example with ghosts and psychic phenomena, where even if you think they're lies, somewhere deep inside there is a thin line that goes "there is the possibility this could actually be true". Like people who say "there's no way ghosts can exist", but start feeling afraid if they walk next to a graveyard at night.

Mr. Tsuchiya:
That's called "reality erosion". I ultimately want to take everything I make to that point. I want the players to be so immersed in it that they mistake it for reality.

--From that perspective, could we say then that VTubers are "real but fake"?

Mr. Tsuchiya:
I'd say VTubers are a different thing, as they're more entertainment than something we can real or fake.

To be honest, back in March 2012 we held a VTuber-like event for "Ciel nosurge" called "Game Dengeki Gratitude Festival". We implemented a program that'd cause Ion to move around in response to pressing a button, and we had her voice actress Kakuma Ai in the backstage, allowing her to converse with the customers in front of her all like, "Good evening!" We then had her answer in that same moment the questions of the customers present at the event's venue as Ion.

--Since that happened in 2012, you were ahead of the times!

Mr. Tsuchiya:
This conversation event was something we held outside the PS Vita game "Ciel nosurge", but in my mind it was part of "Ciel nosurge as well". Holding this sort of event gave us one more point in the "Ion truly exists" scale. It was a pretty complex system though, so we could only hold this sort of event 2 or 3 times.

I thought we couldn't represent Ion actually being alive beyond having her hold real-time conversations, so it was something I really wanted to do. That's all there is it.

Representing a Character from Another World Being "Alive" by Having Her Send "Real Things" such as a Book and CD[]

--What kind of elements did you need to allow that reality to be felt?

Mr. Tsuchiya:
That was something I had to ponder every single day while administrating "Ciel nosurge". Like I mentioned above, having her reply in real-time was one such element, while the other was physical interactions.

I mean, I think being able to exchange presents with a character would be 100% impossible for a normal game, right? And to check whether this would be impossible to be done, we tried testing it out in "Ciel nosurge" in two separate occasions.

The first was the DLC "Ion is Making a Picture Book", which we distributed with no prior introduction. Ion was drawing a picture book every day, and we asked opinions from the players under a "I want to tell this sort of story..." premise. This DLC was distributed in December 2012, and between the middle and the end of December, we had Ion say "I've finished the book! I'll be sending it to your world now!" And so, the continuation to this story was in the end-of-year Comic Market (※), where we started selling it as the "distributors Ion's book arrived at".

※Sold at the End-of-Year Comic Market
The Comic Market 83 that was held in December 2012, which was where the picture book that Ion had drawn, "Filament Star" was sold.

--That's amazing.

Mr. Tsuchiya:
We had incredible responses from the fans, and it was popular enough that the entire print run was sold out in the first day. But I have the feeling that those on the outside would look at it with cold eyes and call it "unscrupulous business practices" (lol).

And there was one more trick to it too: we included a questionnaire in the picture book. Players would write their impressions in the questionnaire, mark checkboxes that had options such as "it was fun", and upon sending it, it would get input into the "Ciel nosurge" game servers, where the next time they played the game Ion would say something like "I've received your feelings on it. I'm glad that you found it fun!" I thought it was important to increase the sense of it actually existing by having the players "receive actual gifts" and "allow them to communicate their opinions to Ion", and it was thanks to these policies that I could do things like I wanted to a certain extent.

--It truly had a significant impact. What was the other test then?

Mr. Tsuchiya:
The other test was something we made when the management of "Ciel nosurge" was in its final stages. "Ciel nosurge" is a server-based game, so all the choices the player has made while playing it are saved forever in the server. We then carried out a project that used all these accumulated choices called "Last Message" (※).

First, we recorded messages of the type "you told me this at this time. That made me really happy" for each type of choice, following the choices saved in the server. Then, we used a script to compile these choices into a WAV file, and recorded it into CDs. In other words, it was a project to send to the players a voice message CD whose contents would be different for every single player based on which choices they had made through the game.

While I think there have been other games that sold items based on presents the characters give the player, I don't think the contents of these presents differ from a recipient to another. That doesn't allow to feel "the character is alive". And that's why I wanted to make something where "their contents aren't even remotely the same!", which was what I could do at the very end of this project. This also got some great reactions from everyone.

※"Last Message"
A project that was carried out aimed at players who had cleared "Ciel nosurge", which would allow them to buy "Ion's Last Message CD". In addition to the contents covered in the interview, players could indicate the name they wanted their version of Ion call them when submitting their application, making each CD unique for each person.

--This may sound like I'm repeating myself, but I feel that the more we talk about the "characters being alive", the more we are exposing the difference, or differentiation with the VTubers that are actually alive.

VTubers have become especially aware recently that having a living person behind them doesn't have only advantages, but also disadvantages. Virtual characters don't age and continue living forever, which is supposed to be an advantage, but the person behind them tends to quit one or two years later.

On the contrary, I'd like to ask you what is the meaning of attempting to give a sensation of the "character is alive" while at the same time doing so in a way they are not actually alive? It's rather interesting, which is why I wish to ask you more about it. If you are saying that it's important to immediately reply back to give the sensation of being "alive", isn't it something that can be created with no difficulty with a living person behind like a VTuber? But this also leads me to question what is the meaning and possibility of doing it in a different way.

Mr. Tsuchiya:
It may be pretty misleading to say it this way, but for me the characters, while they are very important, they aren't the main focus. What I mainly want to depict is a "real world that exists on the other side". I have said this before, but the characters exist as a window to that world.

That's why, for example, if the characters I've brought into the world ended up dying at some point, I'd just say that "they are alive, so it's natural for them to die."

Actually speaking, the "Augmented Reality Girls Trinary" app I mentioned previously may have ended service already, but it's also a work where the passage of time continues inside the app even now. The heroines will end up aging at the same rate time passes in the real world, so now three years have passed since the service started, these characters who were about 15 years old are now becoming adults, but even now we're sending to the players goods like letters from these characters now they've grown up describing "I did this and so!"

That said though, this had arguments in favor and against not only from the players, but also from the other staff members. It's kind of similar to what was said previously, with some people thinking that "the character is an eternal 18-year-old, and should stay like that!" But for me it's natural that if a year has passed in our world, a year should have passed in their world too. That's all there is to it.

This also applies to "Surge Concerto DX", as we are selling a game and goods set called "AGENT PACK CODE GOLD/." It includes a drama CD, which given that 8 years have passed since the end of the game, is a drama that shows an Ion 8 years older. I hope that the players who have come to enjoy this sort of thing get excited about it, as there are many fans out there who will always keep supporting Ion. This is something that I created from the feeling of growing old alongside her, and both supporting each other, by saying "I'm at your side". That's what I put the most importance on.

The "Holy Land Pilgrimage" is an "Experience" of how the Unreal World of Anime Erodes the Daily Life Space[]

--From what you just said, Mr. Tsuchiya, it gives off the feeling that both the players and character share time and space.

It is said in the music industry that, as the result of the CD business no longer being viable, they have changed focus to live performances to get more earnings. Taking this into account, it's frequently said nowadays that "experiences have a value". We could think that value has shifted from mass-produced/mass consumption items to experiences, which makes one-in-a-lifetime events or live performances much more important. Everybody somehow understands this, but it's pretty difficult to incorporate such things in the planning of content.

Mr. Tsuchiya:
That's one of the things I've thought of. I think even now that experiences are a truly amazing thing. Real escape games have become trendy lately, but savoring experiences with an extraordinary feeling in the middle of inorganic days is the evidence that everybody craves that sort of thing.

We've gone though this already, but what I want to do is construct a truly real world that allows everybody to briefly escape the unpleasant every day routine and go to another world. It's escapism in a good way. To come up with experiences that allow to safely immerse oneself in extraordinary events and constantly give them a new shape is one of the challenges I face. --And something that fits the bill of allowing to give "that extraordinary sensation of being connected to ordinary life" is the "Surge Concerto" games, which are unlike other communication games, and also are decisively unlike RPGs with a universe-like world setting. Does this characteristic of them being products connected to ordinary life in this way remind you of anything else, Mr. Tsuchiya?

Mr. Tsuchiya:
I think it does somehow... The genre may be a little different, but I think it's kind of like the "Holy Land Pilgrimage" that's become trnedy since some time ago. I think that's a pretty unreal experience inside reality.

For example, when Akihabara appears in a game or anime, the "unreality" of it serving as the setting for a game or anime encroaches upon it being just a place that many people visit for shopping or work. It gives a sensation of knowing that the game or anime is a lie, but there is some truth to it. I think this is an example of an extraordinary experience caused by "reality erosion".

This way, a place somebody walking through in a mechanical and listless way becomes a holy land for the game or anime, changing it into a place that becomes fun to even just walk through. And as something that greatly enriches society, I think it's prety important.

--I see. I understand that very well.

Mr. Tsuchiya:
As for something like a holy land pilgrimage, I had thought of this while I was working in "Ciel nosurge", but given the setting for it is another world, it means there is no possible overlap with the world existing in this reality. I thought that was a weak point.

The true reason why I made "Augmented Reality Girls Trinary" after "Ciel nosurge" and "Ar nosurge" was because I wanted to represent this sort of thing. That's the reason why "Augmented Reality Girls Trinary" used Tokyo as its setting.

To go off-topic for a little, what I gave the most emphasis to while I was making "Augmented Reality Girls Trinary" was to clearly presenting "She was in this place just now, in the world you live in". I used Tokyo to represent this whole thing of "here is this sort of thing, and the reason why she was here was because she wanted to use this exact thing".

The heroines appearing in "Augmented Reality Girls Trinary" love cafes, so each of them have their own favorite cafe from the ones that actually exist. For example, one of the heroines is a girl named Kagura, and her favorite cafe is Schatzkiste. We had a friendly relationship with Schatzkiste that goes all the way back to the "Ciel nosurge" times, and while we could hold a collaboration event with them for "Augmented Reality Girls Trinary" too, we had to replace many things with real-world substitutes then. We added some scribbles from the girls to the cafe's notebook, and we had the maids in the cafe talk about them as if "they really had come there".

If the people around say "that's right", what's said eventually becomes the truth. So if we had all the maids in Schatzkiste saying "Little Kagura came the other day", I think that'd become true too. That sort of thing ends up accumulating over and over, which means that for better or worse, lies end up becoming the truth. Of course there is a dilemma that it could end up becoming a severe social problem if it gets misused, but at the same, if it's employed for entertainment, we need to continue making the lie as thorough as possible for the players' enjoyment, so they may be continue being deceived in a good sense.

It's in this sort of way that the "reality erosion" that defines "unreal, but real" happens. That's what I'd like to keep working hard at making, in my mind.

--There's a book out there called "Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind" (※) that's become a bestseller, which states that "humankind has evolved thanks to lies". For example, the existence of money could be said to be predicated on the fiction that it is considered equal in value to items, but by having everybody believe so is that the economic system is constructed, which is what allows everyone to reach happiness. It's in this sort of way that humans evolve through the use of fiction. Fiction is of great importance to humans. Entertainment, beginning with video games, is the modern version of it, don't you think?

※"Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind"
A world bestseller book written by Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari, and which was published and became a hot topic in Japan in 2016. It overlooks the entirety of human history from the viewpoint of the ability to "believe in fiction" that only the Homo Sapiens possesses, and attempts to predict the future that awaits humanity.

Mr. Tsuchiya:
I think that's true too. Contents such as anime and games may cause onlookers to be shocked and think "I can't believe this person..." when they see how fans of these works immerse themselves into them, but these works have healing properties for these people and give them the vitality to continue onwards to the future, so I think it's okay as long as they don't cause trouble to other people. Isn't it wonderful to be able to create something that allows people to immerse in its world and give them energy to face the future?

--A certain game creator said something to the effect of "what are games for humans?" The first premise is that the value of human wealth has been calculated based on the total amount of material possessions, but now the total amount of material possessions has been maxed out. A long time ago, being able to eat one's fill was enough to be happy, but under the premise that anybody can eat as much as they want, what should we assign value to then? That's the next problem the human society from the 21st century onward must tackle.

That creator then said "at that time, games will increase the total amount of value in the real world". It's true it might have no particular value, but killing enemies in the game allows the player to level up. In other words, a value different from the one in real world exists in the space inside that game.

Nowadays, I think not many children have experienced success, as only a handful of them can attain first place both in academics and sports. It's the midst of this they could tell their own heroic saga of having captured all existing monsters in "Pokemon". In other words, is a value that exists on a different axis from being the first place in academics or sports, because it gave value to that person as an experience. It is in this way that, like the creator said, that "games will increase the total amount of human experience value in the real world".

For example, in location-based games the value of the land in the real world space gets an additional layer of value by overlapping with an information value of "a rare character appears easily here", which increases the total value of the world.

Mr. Tsuchiya:
We could say that ultimately, location-based games work under the same concept as the holy land pilgrimage. The value is different for people who are playing the game, and for people who aren't playing the game. Going to such a place doesn't have the same value for every single person, but it's unmistakable that it has a value for yourself. I think it's amazing this could spread throughout the whole world.

--If that's the case, it would mean that if many people believing "a rare character shows up" gathered in a park nobody visits, it would gain value in the real world as well, right? That feeling is a concept that had been restricted to video games thus far, but I think it has spread quite a bit now. It's under that meaning that the sense of neighboring worlds and world setting you have been aiming for, Mr. Tsuchiya, is synchronized with it.

Mr. Tsuchiya:
Even in "Augmented Reality Girls Trinary", we actually wanted to bring forth the bosses to our world for real. Players were supporting the girls so the world on the other side of the screen could be peaceful, but then the enemy bosses would try to cut off the problems at the source, meaning they would aim to attack the players themselves. We wanted to do something like having bosses appear around Shibuya 109, and when you went there, the bosses would appear on AR and everyone would have to fight them in a raid battle. I also had the idea of collecting Pokemon-like creatures called Curans that were scattered throughout the city as part of my initial plans. It was due to the inclusion of that idea that we used the "Augmented Reality" word in the game's title. That's something I wanted to try doing for a long time.

The Fans and Contents Became the Same Part of the Role-play We Formed in "Ciel nosurge"[]

--Even if you had the ideas, I think the business side that would determine whether they would become a reality is quite important as well. So considering this, what is the intention behind releasing "Ciel nosurge DX" now?

Mr. Tsuchiya:
I'm constantly having all sorts of ideas. Especially with "Ciel nosurge," with if I may say so myself, had quite the pioneering design. However, there were some discrepancies with what Gust managed to achieve at the time, which I feel has caused some problems to the players.

So with these reflections in mind, why we did decide to release "Ciel nosurge DX" now? To be honest, we had to eliminate several of the concepts we wanted at the time when we decided to take it offline.

But still, the reason for why we wanted to release "Ciel nosurge DX" was for it to serve as a "memorial".

We cannot relive the same experiences twice in our lives, but we can always look back on them by seeing the pictures on an album, right? That's why I think it's important.

--Lately many social games are ending service and going offline, with many having the idea of wanting to at the least preserve their stories, right?

Mr. Tsuchiya:
I think the strong area of the smartphone apps is "living experiences that can only be enjoyed at that particular moment". But similarly, I think it's pretty cruel for these experiences to only remain as memories afterward. That's why I've keenly felt that since long ago that all smartphone titles should leave an archive behind so they may be vicariously experienced later. But smartphones have also the problem that OS updates may render these apps nonfunctional.

On the other hand, I think the strength of home console games is that as long as the hardware still works, you can experience games from ten years ago with no issue. But that would require a bit of work, so I think remastering the games like we did with "Surge Concerto DX" is more convenient for the customers, as we improved the image quality, which would be all in all a good thing for everyone.

What I felt in the past with "Surge Concerto" was the difficulty of going across the hardware barriers. "Ar nosurge" was originally released for the PS3, so there were users who played "Ciel nosurge" in the PS Vita that couldn't play it. If you thought you wanted to enjoy the contiguous lands that form "Surge Concerto" you needed to own both a PS Vita and a PS3. Sure, it was possible to enjoy "Ar nosurge" by itself, but it's undeniable that the experience was greatly more enjoyable if you played "Ciel nosurge" first.

We released afterward "Ciel nosurge OFFLINE" and "Ar nosurge PLUS", which allowed to enjoy both games on the same platform, the PS Vita, but this time for "Surge Concerto DX" we'll be releasing them both on PS4, Steam and Switch at the same time from the beginning, preserving the charm of being able to experience these contiguous lands together.

Now I look back on it, this is a project that has various points I need to reflect upon. We set our sights far too high back then, and while they were titles in which we put our best efforts, there are parts I have to say that didn't come out as well as we'd have liked. But we were able to produce all sorts of policies and contents as a result, and it also gave us a base of passionate fans.

--What was the age range of the players you had back then?

Mr. Tsuchiya:
Roughly in their late twenties to early thirties, with the early thirties ones being the most numerous.

--I get the impression that this player base is closer to that of novel games rathen than RPGs.

Mr. Tsuchiya:
It does feel that way. We wanted to maintain the community as a communication tool that had Ion as its hook, but many of the players focused on Ion, and the overwhelming majority of the players didn't enjoy it in the way we had designed it as a communication tool between players, so in that way things took a different turn from our expectations.

There was a great excitement around it at first. We even got various companies posting barcodes on the message boards. But when I wondered just how much longer it'd last, it went away.

To be honest, I wanted to do collaborations with all sorts of things through the barcode system. For example, we could have Sharls carrying boxes of sweets that exist in the real world, and if we had that, everyone would be wanting to take photos of the barcodes. Even that was another crossover I wanted to do with the ordinary real world. I wanted the players to become even more excited by seeing in the game things they were familiar with from the real world. That's another example of the "reality erosion" I wanted to do.

--Regarding the "reality erosion" you are talking about, Mr. Tsuchiya, I remember I was really shocked when I watched a hero show at an amusement park some time ago. It was because the children were cheering so passionately for the hero to come out into the show. To these children, the hero before their eyes is the real one because it looks identical to the one they saw in the TV. I thought that feeling was incredible.

Mr. Tsuchiya:
I think we had that sort of role-play as part of the contents we made for "Ciel nosurge". Like we discussed previously, we said "the book was sent beyond the Seven Dimensions through a device called the Genelogic Machine" and we put it out for sale at the Comiket, but normally anybody would think "there's no way that happened" or "it's just a book", right? But to the fans that participated in the role-play, it was "a book Ion sent us". It's in that way I think it becomes role-play in the truest sense possible. I think that may have been the most radical thing we had done for a game at the time.

When we first sent information on "Ciel nosurge" to the gaming magazines and put up the teaser adverts, all the sentences in them were written in a unique language to give them the feeling of solving a riddle. To be honest, if somebody had been able to decode and translate all the sentences that appeared on the adverts, they'd have been hit with massive spoilers for the game. As the game progressed, we unveiled pages explaining how the language worked, but then some players used these clues and translated everything that appeared in the initial teaser advert. They enjoyed finding out "to think they'd have include this sort of spoilers in this!" Even in that sense, "Ciel nosurge" started being a role-play from the very beginning.

We previously talked about we did something like a VTuber for "Ciel nosurge", and in fact we tried to do something similar for the Machi*Asobi at Tokushima. I wasn't present for it, but Ion appeared in the movie theater's screen while her voice actress Kakuma Ai-san narrated from backstage.

By the way, one of the staff members ended up breaking an HDMI connector while they were connecting the equipment and caused the image to not display... The sound supervisor at the time, Mr. Naya Ryosuke (※) was leading the presentation, but he follow-up by ad-libbing "we cannot connect to Ion beyond the Seven Dimensions, so we won't be able to meet with her today". The players were fully enjoying the role-play, so they just accepted it with an "Oh well, things just happen"...
It was an unexpected trouble, but it allowed me to feel how it was a role-play in which fans and contents came together.

※Naya Ryosuke
The former president of Production Mausu Promotion, the agency which Ion's voice actress Kakuma Ai is part of, and he is currently the president and chief executive officer of Studio Mausu, which is in charge of the sound production for anime and Western movie dubs. He is also in charge of multiple matters for Machi*Asobi, such as presiding and conducting events.

--I think something unique and one-of-a-kind is as important, in a cheap way of speaking, as a live experience in a digital society, or an once-in-a-lifetime experience. If something becomes an "once-in-a-lifetime experience", its value greatly increases even if the same thing is done again afterward.

Mr. Tsuchiya:
I understand that very well. Currently, the digital takes up a large share of our lives, and as long as we have a smartphone in hand, we can pretty much do anything. A smartphone is basically an effective reset for as long as the service lasts. You can rewatch the same thing many times, and can even look at old articles. It's in this situation that everybody is looking for something outside the smartphones that "can only be experienced right now".

Now everybody has been pushed further into the digital realm thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. That's why I think that craving is only growing stronger. I have several merchandise plans, but it's now harder to go and vent things the way I'd normally do it, and next to no major events are held any more. When we offer merchandise under these conditions, they really catch the people's interest. From these responses, I can feel there is still demand for non-digital experiences out there.

--By the way, I'm sorry for spring this question out of nowhere, but do you like SF, Mr. Tsuchiya?

Mr. Tsuchiya:
It depends on the SF genre. If it's space or cyberpunk like "Matrix", I love it. When I was in my twenties, I wasn't really interested in SF and only watched fantasy movies.

--That's interesting to hear. Your games' settings are very SF in nature, so I thought you liked it.

Mr. Tsuchiya:
To be honest, they ultimately ended up becoming SF. The first "Ar tonelico" is a rigid fantasy work. It was made with the feeling that no metalwork or electronics would be visible on the surface. However, this is because of my own personal fixations, but magic has to appear in fantasy. And then, I ended up making in my own way the logic, structure and history behind "why fire is shot when a Fire spell is chanted", as I'm the type who isn't satisfied until I do so.

That's not because I like SF, but at the risk of repeating myself, because I really want to create a realistic world. I don't care if it's magic or whatever, I'm not satisfied if I don't establish the theory behind it. I think that's why it ultimately seems like it's SF. I think that the so-called typical SF are works that show things that aren't real as if they were real thanks to their thoroughly elaborate settings. There's a reason why they are called "Science Fiction" after all. So while this may sound strange, the works I have made "aren't SF-like because I love SF", but "because they ultimately became SF".

I'd Like to Present "Surge Concerto" to the World Again, a Work in which I Bet My Youthful Passion[]

--How would you like new players to play the two games "Ciel nosurge" and "Ar nosurge"?

Mr. Tsuchiya:
Both "Surge Concerto" games, especially "Ciel nosurge" became hot topics for good and bad back when they were originally released, so I think there are many people out there who know their names. So I'd like for these people to be able to readily pick up these titles while feeling "back then I couldn't get ahold of them because it was too expensive, but now I can get them".

For the rest, I'm very happy this article is being written, and I hope this will instill an interest on the players of the type "I didn't know it existed until now, but it's really different from other games". I think porting the games to many platforms should produce new opportunities for a lot of people to experience them.

--Can you tell us about any concrete episodes that display the passion you felt back then?

Mr. Tsuchiya:
If you ask me what my passion was, it was everything. There was never a time I wasn't going against the curret, not even right before launch. We had everything against us, but we kept struggling on.

We had a lot of bug reports after the launch, and we need time to debug and fix them. But as many players had already started playing the game and we couldn't betray them, I kept saying "we have to keep going at any cost".

Several compromise proposals and ideas came up during that time. Things such as "let's stop after we have done this much," or "let's finish this fiscal year". And I replied so many times I can't even count them to these "No. We'll keep doing this until the very end. Please let me do it".

--About how much time went by between the initial release date and the release of the final DLC?

Mr. Tsuchiya:
The release was in April 2012, and the final DLC was released on July 2014, so over two years.

"Ar nosurge" was released in March 2014, but all the DLC for "Ciel nosurge" should have been released by that point. We were behind schedule, but I think it was all thanks to the passion of the development team and the players that we could finish everything up properly.

For what it's worth, everybody stayed with us until the very end. We had next to no changes in the management team members ever since we started managing the game. And I'm truly grateful to each and every one of the team members.

--How old were you then at the time, Mr. Tsuchiya?

Mr. Tsuchiya:
I was in my late thirties. Around 38 years old.

--I see you're still hot-blooded (lol).

Mr. Tsuchiya:
True, everyone else back then were pretty young. The "Ciel nosurge" team itself was composed of youngsters, so we could put a lot of energy into doing all sorts of things.

We held in July 2017 a live event for showcasing the Gust works called the "Gust Gala". Back then "Surge Concerto" had barely been established, so we didn't get many attendees, and if I had to say anything, it's that the event had "Atelier" as its main attraction. Mr. Naya got mad at me and said "this is not right". We had asked him for his assistance in making the "Ciel nosurge" drama CD. And in addition to that, he was in charge of editing the "Ciel nosurge" articles for Dengeki PlayStation and presiding the events.

The content of "Ciel nosurge" was truly supported by the fans, of course, but also by the love of the many people that were involved in the project.

I Learned about the IP Business through "Ciel nosurge", which is the Basis for Gust now[]

--How did Gust change since they became part of Koei-Tecmo Games?

Mr. Tsuchiya:
It changed greatly. Originally Gust had more of a doujin disposition. Gust has had its fair share of ups and downs, but for better or worse we had a doujin disposition and thus we only made whatever we wanted to make, so we didn't take full advantage of the chances we got. Of course, that's precisely part of why we were able to make products that reflected their creators so strongly.

Nowadays, our efficiency has improved in several aspects, such as through third-party evaluation organizations, and I think the quality of our products has also improved. I think though that the way we create things has completely changed from the time we had a doujin disposition.

I don't think one is better or worse than the other. There's also the matter of how times have changed. Back then home console games were all we had to worry about, but now we are competing with smartphones, and there's also a large variety of ways to sell our products.

In that sense, the whole game industry used to have that doujin-esque disposition a long time ago too. And now, business is much more at the front compared to these times. But I still don't think there's anything good or bad to it.

As for Koei-Tecmo Games, the managing director Koinuma and the representative director Erikawa regard highly the characteristic touch Gust's games have. Hosoi has become the brand manager, while I was given the role of senior manager in the development team. I'm still the enter around which the Gust brand product teams revolve, so in that respect, maintaining the characteristic touch of Gust's games is important to me.

As for the nature of our works, I think it's pretty easy to do it because basically nothing gets rejected, as we just "want to make this sort of works as Gust".

Even for Machi*Asobi, as I didn't originally plan to go there every year. But it was thanks to "Ciel nosurge" that I started participating in such events. "Surge Concerto" was also what made us appear for the first time at Comiket as the Gust brand.

Our first appearance at Comiket was as a booth specialized in "Surge Concerto" merchandise called "Seven Dimensions Shop".

Hosoi has said as well that in that sense, "Surge Concerto" probably served as the influence for the current Gust brand's base, its current product business and the way we go about IP. I strongly feel the same thing.

Games, IP business and character business are becoming quite close to each other nowadays. It was a great asset for us to notice that at that time.

It may sound like a repeat of what I previously said, but the reason why we are releasing "Surge Concerto DX" now is to reaffirm this context. We would like to approach what we have done in the past once more and check how the players react to it.

Like we have done for the "Atelier" series, we're always expectant of our players' reactions, looking out for what they wish to see in our products, and then trying to come up with proposals that the players haven't thought of. And "Surge Concerto" is one of these touchstones.

(End)

Back when "Ciel nosurge" was released in 2012 for the PS Vita, the author couldn't understand why this game had to be "Online-exclusive". In a certain way, we could say I finally understood this game's true value once I started collecting information for this article.

The play data was collected into the servers and used for events outside the game itself. A community was constructed through the game. And it was filled with tricks to allow players to actually "experience" the characters really existing... All of these elements are commonplace in 2020, when most people have smartphones that are always online and online connectivity has become the standard for home video game consoles. Once again, I'm impressed with Mr. Tsuchiya's ideas and energy due to having planned this project in 2012, and making it a reality in spite of the many difficulties he faced.

Now I have a better understanding of these measures, I think I may be able to see in a better light the characteristic charm of "Surge Concerto", which transcends these gimmicks. I'm personally looking forward how current game fans, both those who knew the games back from its original releases, and those who are completely new to the series, react to "Surge Concerto".

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