Exclusive Interview: Yoko Taro On Machine Empathy And Butts In Nier: Automata


Editor’s note: This article contains numerous story details that are most certainly spoilers, so proceed at your own risk. In addition, I’d like to give special thanks to Tyler Treese (who reviewed Nier: Automata for WGTC) for helpfully contributing a number of questions to this interview.

Few developers can lay claim to a more iconic piece of headwear than Square Enix’s Yoko Taro, who’s rarely seen in public outside of his grinning grey mask (apparently worn because he’s not a fan of being photographed — a sentiment my rather pudgy frame can empathize with, to be sure). Whatever you want to say about his delightfully weird choice of costume, there’s no denying that he’s one of the quirkiest and most unique game developers in Japan today.

As the leader on both the Drakengard and Nier series, his work has provided gamers with a duality of fondly-remembered moments and infamously bizarre design choices — and his latest project, Nier: Automata, might just be his best and strangest yet.

At PAX East this weekend, we sat down with him to talk about empathy for robots, his philosophy on “Making Weird Games for Weird People,” and butt-centric artwork.

Check it out below, and enjoy!

We Got This Covered: In your post about the game on the PS Blog, you said the scenario you created for it was — well, it was translated as “all poop.” I thought that was hilarious, but I know a lot of people who think the story is quite fantastic. Why did you write that about the narrative you created?

Yoko Taro: Whenever I write the scenarios for my games, I don’t necessarily envision them being liked or being wonderful for everyone. If there are 100 people, I don’t anticipate all 100 liking my scenario — but I write it so at least one or two of them will love and get really into that particular story. There are always people who won’t be drawn to a given scenario, and so in that sense, expressing it from the perspective of a person who wouldn’t like it, it would be a “poop” scenario. (laughs)

I remember playing the demo and being absolutely shocked by the fact that a major character appeared to be killed off at the end. Some people have described you as a developer who likes to mess with people, so I have to ask: what goes into a decision like that? Are you just excited at the prospect of confusing and surprising people?

YT: (laughs) I just have a bad personality… an evil personality. So what others might not necessarily do, I just have the impishness to [follow through on].

On that note, you gave a GDC talk on “Making Weird Games for Weird People,” in which you questioned the relatively boring or safe way that developers traditionally approach creating games and challenged them to smash through an invisible wall to the unknown. One of the examples you gave was the notorious “save file deleting” portion at the true end of the original Nier. How do you manage to strike a balance between creating surprise in your games and frustrating the player?

YT: Honestly speaking, I don’t really strike a balance or even try to strike a balance. My belief is that if there are already games that other developers are putting out that are satisfying to the player, with great action or an excellent story, then I desire to create something different — a different type of experience. And ultimately, if that experience becomes something that’s a little bit stressful, I believe it’s okay to have at least one or two games out there that make the player feel that way.

I looked around in other interviews and couldn’t find a definitive answer, but now that the game is out, could we put a rest to the “2B’s backside” rumors? In other words, does the model actually possess the, uh, certain “body part” people have been searching for?

YT: Since I’m not actually a modeller, I haven’t seen 2B with her clothes off, so I’m not quite sure if it is there or not… but personally I would like it to be! (laughs) To do something that’s kind of off-the-charts and meaningless like that, that seems very Nier-like to me.

To that, um, end, when people started creating fan art based on this phenomenon, you Tweeted out that you wouldn’t mind having all that compiled into a zip file and sent to you. I found this really funny because, as you might know, a lot of developers and publishers are pretty disapproving of what we might refer to as “lewd” fan art. But it sounds like you’re a fan?

YT: I do want to edit that statement a little bit… I didn’t necessarily mean that I wanted a zip file full of fan art that features a lot of 2B’s, uh, assets. (laughs) I don’t like artwork that focuses on the butt as much as I like fan art in general — it’s not just specific to the butt area. I love pretty, cute art as well. So what I intended to say was that I would like to have all the fan art gathered, zipped up and sent over to me… but after that statement, there was a misunderstanding, so I’ve been getting a lot of butt-focused artwork. (laughs)

But with regards to people disapproving of “lewd” artwork, there are obviously many types of people out there, and some people don’t like to see that kind of sexy fan art. Even I have certain depictions that I personally don’t like, but I don’t believe artists should necessarily follow a particular person’s preference. They should focus on the things they like and follow their own desires.