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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 November 2005, 08:58 GMT
Katamari creator dreams of playgrounds
By Alfred Hermida
Technology editor, BBC News website

Screenshot of We Love Katamari
The Katamari games are based on the simple premise of rolling
A man widely considered to be one of the most imaginative and creative figures in the world of video games has bad news for his fans.

He cannot see a long-term future in making games. Instead the creator of the bizarre, surreal Katamari Damacy game wants to design playgrounds.

"In 10 years time, I am not going to be making games any more," Keita Takahashi told the BBC News website.

With the success of Katamari under his belt, Mr Takahashi has ambitions in a very different direction.

"I would like to create a playground for children," he said. "A normal playground is flat but I want an undulating one, with bumps."

At first glance, this seems a strange ambition for a game designer. But Mr Takahashi has a degree in sculpture and Katamari is all about a tactile world.

And he believes children should spend more time in the physical world and less time wrapped up in the virtual world of games.

Bigger and bigger

The game for PlayStation 2 changed the life of this art college graduate. Since it saw the light of day in 2004, Katamari Damacy has gone on to become one of the biggest cult hits in the history of video games.

Keita Takahashi
Developers want to come up with fun games but ideas are judged by their sales potential
Keita Takahashi
It is a tough game to describe to someone who has not played it as it defies most of the gaming conventions.

The premise behind it is simple. Roll a sticky ball in any direction and pick up all sorts of random bits and pieces to form a giant katamari - the bigger, the better.

And all this is wrapped in a world of vivid, psychedelic colours, against a soundtrack of cheesy Japanese pop and nonsensical dialogue

"The idea is straightforward," explained Mr Takahashi, "everyone can enjoy the game."

For him, the most important thing was to create a game that was fun. And it is hard not to smile as the cartoon graphics and sheer silliness of the game take over the screen.

Pressure for sequel

Gamers in Europe missed out on the phenomenon, as Katamari Damacy was only officially released in Japan and the US.

Screenshot of We Love Katamari
The aim is to collect as many bits and pieces as possible
The sequel, We Love Katamari, has just been released in the US and will make it to European shores early next year.

But Mr Takahashi did not want to make a sequel. He only got involved after his employer Namco said it would otherwise go ahead without him.

"I didn't want players to be disappointed so I decided to take part," he says. "There are fun things are in the game, though I am not happy with all of it."

Mr Takahashi is not afraid to be critical of an industry where firms play it safe by backing proven money-spinners, often based on sequels and franchises.

His career as a game developer was almost stillborn in 1999, when he failed his initial job interview at Namco. But a design supervisor saw a spark of potential in the youngster from Musashino Art University with an art degree and he was hired.

More choices

Six years on, Mr Takahashi, speaking through a translator, does not shy away from biting the hand that feeds him.

He talks about an industry which talks about attracting new players to games, but yet is reluctant to invest in new ideas.

We Love Katamari character
The King is a central figure in the game
"Developers want to come up with fun games but ideas are judged by their sales potential," he says. "The reality is that decisions are driven by sales and marketing."

As for the next generation of game consoles, with their promise of greater computing muscle, Mr Takahashi is not expecting much.

In fact, he says he feels slightly ashamed that much of the talk about the new machines is about more realistic looking games, rather than about using the raw power to do different things in a game.

"There are people who don't buy games at the moment but want to have fun," he said. "They want more choices and more selection."

As for his future plans, Mr Takahashi is coy about going into details. But the success of Katamari has given him greater freedom at Namco and he is already thinking of new ways in which games can be played.

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