My 5 most embarrassing interview questions for games creators

August 3, 2016 by Brandon Sheffield

Sometimes, you regret the question immediately.

Game journalists are garbage. You know it, and we know it. But sometimes we're kind of nice garbage, like when you find an SNES out on a trash pile on the curb and you're like “heck yeah, I wonder if this works,” and then you take it home and it totally does!! (This is how I got my SNES, by the way.)

Other times, we're like the kind you leave in your house while you go away for the weekend, and there were totally some orange peels and egg shells in there, and now your house is a mass of fruit flies and horrifying smells.

Still others, we're like an angry ex lover dumping the garbage out on your feet. It's pointed. It's bad. It was on purpose, but everyone regrets it immediately.

I've done my fair share of decent journalism. I've stood up for things I believe in, I've brought unknown things to light, and I've made some valid critiques. This is not about that. This is about that time some garbage got dumped on your shoes. Try not to judge me too harshly, most of these things happened more than 10 years ago.

The side-story.

I was interviewing a producer on a new Ninja Gaiden game in Japan. I believe it was Ninja Gaiden II for the 360/PS3, but I never wrote up the interview, so I can't be sure. I was in a bit of a mood, because I'd been told I would get a one on one interview, but here I was with a random British journalist, who everyone knows are the worst of the worst (as well as the best of the best).

I was hanging out with my buddy Tim Rogers, waiting for them to finish up the game demo, and I had basically nothing to ask. I was so disinterested in having a group interview that I almost felt bad for being there at all. So I asked my first question.

A little information: “Gaiden” essentially means sidestory. So Ninja Gaiden means “Ninja sidestory.” Tons of games follow this convention – start a series, then make a sidestory. Darius Gaiden. Fire Emblem Gaiden. Resident Evil Gaiden. Et cetera.

So I asked the producer my question: “What ever happened to Ninja?” He laughed, and asked what I meant. I reiterated – it's been a side-story for so long, when did Ninja happen? He said “uh… I've only worked here for three years, so I'm not sure.” I kept pushing - “it's got to be the side story to something!”

At this point the PR lady had enough of my antics, saying “If you're not going to ask any REAL questions, we'll turn it over to [fumbly British journo], so we can get something out of this.”

The British journalist cleared his throat and looked at his notepad. “Ahem. Yes, well, the game, will it be 1080p?” Important questions! I showed him the press sheet we'd been given. It was written right there. “Yes, well, we need him to say it.” Yes, it was going to be 1080p.

“Right, then. Now, our audience, they like the sexy costumes on the girls. Will there be sexy costumes on the girls?”

Got to get those Real Questions in there! Now who's the fool? I still want to know what happened to Ninja.

Do that dance.

Another year, another Tokyo Game Show. This time I was talking to Toshihiro Nagoshi, director of the Yakuza series. He was there to talk about a new Monkey Ball game, I think, which was very incongruous with his hyper-orange tan, shirtless vest, multiple necklaces and bleached blonde hair. He looked like he was ready to go out and make about a million more Yakuza games and never think about Monkey Ball again.

Toward the end of the interview, I decided to make a bit of a goof. I said “hey, do you want to see our review of Yakuza?” He said “uhhh, sure.” I loaded it up on my vintage 2006-era smartphone, which barely worked and had basically no sound. The “review” was of me and that aforementioned friend Tim Rogers dancing out front of the Don Quijote department store in Shibuya. We looked like idiots.

It's on youtube now, apparently, so you can gawk at it:

Now, in our defense, that particular Don Quijote is frequently featured in the game, and it plays the actual song and all that. But would any normal human being make that connection? I dare say not. He said “uh… that's... that's nice.” And abruptly got up and left. In a dozen trips to japan since, I have never spoken with him again.

Consolevania connection.

This is by far the most embarrassing one, so let's get it out of the way. I was invited to the opening of Nintendo's San Francisco office. I mingled with the people, drank the free booze, and listened to Chris Kohler argue with someone about Zelda (he used to do that a lot more than he does now).

As I was mingling, I happened to see Reggie Fils-Aime. He's hard to miss – he's a pretty tall dude! And, at the time, there was this video going round the internet, from Scottish journalism jokesters Consolevania. It featured a spliced-together cutup of Reggie talking about then Xbox spokesperson J Allard. It was pretty juvenile stuff about how Reggie thinks Allard has a “beautiful face” and how he wants to cum in it.

Well, there I was with a beer in my hand, having my first (and unsurprisingly last) conversation with Fils-Aime, asking him if he'd seen that video. “What video.” “You know the one I mean, the one with J Allard.” “Uh, I've seen it.” “What did you think?” He stares at me for a moment. “I guess it was funny.”

He quickly looked around the room for someone else to talk to, turned his back, and I've never talked to him since either. So embarrassing. So embarrassing. Why did I ask that? Maybe I'm the worst person who ever lived.

(Un?)fortunately that video is no longer on the internet anywhere that I can find, but this other sketch gives you a bit of the vibe.

Rolling up to the barber shop.

Keita Takahashi, of Katamari Damacy fame, is a notoriously tough interview. It's not that he's unfriendly – quite to the contrary! He's a nice and lovely guy. But his answers to interview questions are short, to say the least. He never expands on a topic, and simply answers with yes or no, where appropriate.

It can be so difficult to get him to talk that my friend Mathew Kumar had a brainstorm – he brought a drawing pad and pens to the interview so they could draw together while they talked. The interview is as short-ish as ever, but at least you get to see some cool drawings at the end! 

My own tactic was this – I'd ask him questions that weren't about games! This was during a time when he was voicing his dissatisfaction with the game industry, so maybe he wanted to talk about other stuff! How smart! How clever! I'm a genius!

I really thought I'd get him with my haircut question. He had a unique vibe with his sort of mushroom-y hair at the time, and I figured this would get him going. So I asked, “who cuts your hair?” And he replies: “Oh, I cut it myself!”

And that's it. End of conversation. Failure once again. You can see the length of his answers in the resulting interview.

How many bits are there in a PS3?

I was sitting in the Gamasutra office talking with my then-coworkers about “the old 32 bit days,” and I wondered to myself – how many bits did game consoles have now? The Dreamcast was the last console to use bits as a selling point (that I'm aware of), espousing its 128 bit quality. What about the newer stuff?

Back then, Dave Karraker was the head of PlayStation's marketing department. This was during the PS3 days. Generally, this is not the sort of thing you bother a C-level executive with, but I thought what the heck, the worst he'll do is ignore the email.

Much to my surprise, he connected me directly with an engineer, who told me that – shockingly – the PS3 was also 128 bits! Though he did push through that they still had a bit of an edge with their number of cores.

As soon as that article went up, I got emails from three different PR associates saying “I can't believe he actually answered that stupid question. Don't push your luck.”

But as you can see, I never stopped.