GungHo Online Entertainment’s Jan. 30 announcement that it had acquired Grasshopper Manufacture was more shocking than the usual story of a publisher buying up an independent video game studio. Grasshopper Manufacture is Goichi “Suda 51” Suda’s studio, creator of some of the more outré games to his mainstream game machines. Michigan: Report From Hell, Killer 7, and No More Heroes were all unusually confrontational games that embodied the studio’s slogan, “Punk’s Not Dead.” Was Grasshopper Manufacture selling out or buying in? Would the move kill the studio’s signature creativity?
According to Suda himself, the move was made to GungHo Online Entertainment precisely because it needed a method to keep that creativity alive.
“Around 2011, I was thinking about what I should do with the company, groping about in the dark to try and figure out the real purpose, the real value of Grasshopper Manufacture,” Suda told Japanese magazine 4Gamer, “So while we were deciding our next project, I was too absorbed in the management side of business to really focus on the creative. [GungHo president Kazuki] Morishita asked ‘isn’t that my job?’, and it put me back on the right path.”
As Grasshopper Manufacture’s output has increased in recent years, the apparent quality of its games has dipped. Even though sales of Lollipop Chainsaw were healthy compared to games like No More Heroes, the critical consensus found that it was lacking by comparison. The same is true of 2011’s Shadows of the Damned, but those recent titles weren’t directed by Suda 51. Grasshopper Manufacture may lose its independence in the acquisition, but the burden of management will free up its marquee creative mind.
“Up until now, we’ve been lucky enough to have worked with big name clients, and I’m very thankful to have learned all I have from them,” said Suda, “However, at the same time, it’s also true that it was difficult to truly grasp the creative reigns of a project, which is a situation I’ve been trying to rectify.”
The security offered by the acquisition has seemingly helped Suda come back to directing. Even though the game will be published by Marvelous AQL in Japan and Xseed Games in the US, this summer’s Killer is Dead marks Suda’s return to directing games. Here’s hoping it is also a return to form for his studio.