Interview: The Untold Story of PaRappa the Rapper

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Interview: The Untold Story of PaRappa the Rapper

A PlayStation.Blog exclusive! Our own Shuhei Yoshida interviews series creator Masaya Matsuura.

PaRappa the Rapper released on the original PlayStation in 1996, and starting today you can play the iconic rhythm game on PlayStation 4!

To celebrate the release of PaRappa the Rapper Remastered, please enjoy this special interview between the father of PaRappa, Masaya Matsuura, and the president of SIE Worldwide Studios, Shuhei Yoshida.

The original PlayStation version of PaRappa was released on December 6th 1996 in Japan. Crash Bandicoot, which Shuhei Yoshida produced, came out on the very same day. Both went onto become international hits and iconic mascot characters for PlayStation. Watch the video above to see part of the interview between these two friends, and read on for the full version of their talk (plus a special opportunity to get a PaRappa PS4 Dynamic Theme for free while supplies last).

PaRappa the Rapper Remastered

From a Musician to a Game Creator

Yoshida: I have met Matsuura-san a number of times, but there are still times when I hear something new. Before you began working on PaRappa, Matsuura-san, you had been performing in a band called “PSY.S”, right? Moreover, you were a major artist, releasing many singles and albums. So what made you work as a game creator?

Matsuura: After making PaRappa, I too have had the opportunity to revisit that question countless times over. At the time, I was signed with CBS Sony (currently Sony Music Entertainment), but I had tried counting once or twice to see what kind of platforms the music I had worked on was being used. Analog records, cassettes, CDs, video discs, etc. When I counted it all up, there were approximately 30 platforms. Of that, the one that had increased its presence was the interactive field.

Yoshida: At the time, the word “multi-media” was popular, and CD-ROM interactive software was selling well.

Matsuura: Yup. That was an era where there was a lot of focus on interactive media.

PaRappa the Rapper Interview

There was also one more preliminary factor, though when I bring this up, I think everyone will be quite disappointed (laughs). That said, I had made my debut in the 1980s, a period of time that was revolutionary in the music industry. It was a time when MTV started becoming popular. It was a time when people didn’t just listen to music, but enjoyed the visuals that went with it. There are musicians who are suited for this and musicians that are not…

Yoshida: That’s right. To me, I thought of PSY.S was very stylish. Even now, that image comes to mind.

Matsuura: At that time, the record company was going through some hard times, and I think they had narrowed down a variety of ideas for me. (laughs) I just could not see myself appearing in videos. While it is nice to have others enjoy listening and seeing my songs, I recall myself just feeling out of place when it came to me appearing in videos.

I had made music on computers as well, so it was fun doing collaborations where I create music and others create the CG. So with that, we entered into the 90’s. When these new themes of multimedia and interactive (software) came about, I thought to myself, “This is it! With this, I can avoid having to be in music videos!” (laughs)

Yoshida: Oh so that was the reason? (laughs)

Matsuura’s Adventures in the Game Industry

Yoshida: When did development for PaRappa begin?

Matsuura: Around 1994, I guess. After the PlayStation was announced.

Yoshida: At the time, you were a musician, not a game developer, right?

“Even for me, it was not clear to me either if this was a game or not.”

Matsuura: That is an important point. Upon completing PaRappa and gearing up for promotion, I had a discussion with the staff from Sony Computer Entertainment about how we should go about promoting the game. I remember that many of the staff at that time saying that, “this is not a game.” Even for me, it was not clear to me either if this was a game or not.

Yoshida: At the time, it was a completely new type of game that didn’t fit into any genre. But yeah, even you, Matsuura-san, say it is unclear if PaRappa was a game or not.

Matsuura: I would have never thought that PaRappa would have had such a good reception for this long.

Yoshida: With PaRappa, we were able to establish a crucial position for “music games” as a genre in gaming worldwide. It had so much of an impact that it managed to keep music games going by continuing to stimulate other music game creators to create successor hit titles in the genre. But, the staff at that time was not sure what kind of game they should treat this title as.

PaRappa the Rapper InterviewPaRappa the Rapper Interview

Matsuura: There were not that many discs manufactured anyway, and I thought that it would just end there and then.

Yoshida: So that is how you felt until it was released?

Matsuura: Not just until it was released, but for another six months after release as well.

Yoshida: In the end, it was a massive hit just in Japan alone.

Matsuura: The initial number of copies we pressed was in the tens of thousands. I remember talking to some staff back then and asking them how long they thought it would take to sell through all the copies.

Yoshida: I was a producer on Crash Bandicoot, which came out on the same day. The PaRappa team marketing rep and sales rep were both really fired up about the game. I was so jealous of that passion and sense of unity.

Matsuura: Oh really? But I have no recollection of the game becoming a hit. Even after the initial shipment units sold through, we only managed to sell a few copies at a time following that.

“It was the fact that players had recognized my work as an actual game that became a driver for me to enter into the gaming industry.”

Yoshida: I see. So this was not a title that sold through a lot right away?

Matsuura: That’s right. It was selling at about a few thousand each week. Even after six months passed, we may have sold about a few hundred thousand units, but I still really didn’t feel it then. There were other million-seller titles, so compared to those I thought this was fairly subdued.

Yoshida: So that’s what you had thought?! I didn’t expect that.

Matsuura: It wouldn’t hit me until later. The thing I was most surprised about was that players actually considered PaRappa as an actual game. The result of that was the opportunity for me to enter into the game industry.

Yoshida: The release of PaRappa made me realize just how much fun it is to make games. So, you disbanded PSY.S in 1996. Did you feel like you threw away your exit strategy at that point?

Matsuura: I did, yes. I thought to myself, if players accept PaRappa, then maybe I can make games for a living. It was the fact that players had recognized my work as an actual game that became a driver for me to enter into the gaming industry.

PaRappa the Shrimp!? The Secret Behind the Birth of PaRappa

Yoshida: PaRappa was received as a character that represented PlayStation around the world. While this was the start for spreading rhythm games around the world, the characters too were widely loved. Which came first – the game or the characters?

Matsuura: The rhythm game portion was first.

Yoshida: These days, it’s not that difficult to create a prototype on your own, but how did you create one back then?

Matsuura: We decided that we would use Rodney’s illustrations. We wanted to make something on the PlayStation. Rodney, too, wanted to make something on the system. And that was when a SCE producer approached and asked us how we felt about making something together. It was from there that I studied the PlayStation environment and made the prototype from scratch.

PaRappa the Rapper Remastered

Yoshida: How long was the development cycle?

Matsuura: About two and a half years, I think.

Yoshida: Did you decide on what the gameplay was going to be from the beginning? Did you want to use rap?

Matsuura: I had already decided to use rap, yes. Sampling technology itself was from the 80s, but the most interesting thing about sampling was people’s voices. I remember having the idea about wanting to create a music game using voices.

Yoshida: How did the PaRappa character come about?

Matsuura: I explained the content of the game to Rodney, and then asked him to draw a character that raps for us. From there, he drafted up several concepts.

Yoshida: You didn’t tell him to make PaRappa a dog?

Matsuura: I believe the proposal for a dog design came about somewhere along the way. Initially, the proposal was to have a shrimp that raps. (laughs) Amongst the many concepts, there was a proposal for a dog, and I thought that it looked pretty good.

Yoshida: I see. So it wasn’t a matter of you specifically asking for a dog, but more of a request to make several variations of characters that can rap.

PaRappa the Rapper InterviewPaRappa the Rapper Interview

Matsuura: Correct. Rodney already had several characters that he owned, so we borrowed some of those as well. Sunny, Katie, and P.J. were some of those. But we didn’t have a main character needed for a brand new game, so we started with having him create that character.

Yoshida: There sure were a lot of unique characters, like Chop Chop Master Onion.

Matsuura: Masters for each stage were all new characters including Chop Chop Master Onion. These were all characters that came about after PaRappa’s inception.

Yoshida: Were all of the songs created by yourself, Matsuura-san?

“Actually, the demo backtracks that I initially created were all samples of existing songs.”

Matsuura: There were artists who created DJ-type songs, so I was able to have them assist me with this. Actually, the demo backtracks that I initially created were all samples of existing songs. However, we could not use these in the game due to licensing, so I rewrote all the songs into originals while maintaining the concept of each tune.

Yoshida: The story for each of the levels is connected, but was there any possibility of not utilizing this game design perhaps?

Matsuura: Some people suggested we should have stories in the game early on. However, all of the ideas were discussed flexibly and we were pretty much free to do as we pleased.

Yoshida: Where did the idea come about for PaRappa’s line, “I Gotta Believe!!”?

Matsuura: There was a member on the development team who came up with the rap lyrics. His go-to phrase was, ”I Gotta Believe!!”. In one of our discussions, he suggested that we should use that phrase, and we felt that it was a good fit. Even after the game came out, he was boasting in a post-launch interview about how he was the one who had given that line to PaRappa. (laughs)

“Expression and Music Are Free”

Yoshida: After PaRappa was released, there were so many music games that came about. Matsuura-san, how did you view those titles?

Matsuura: Fundamentally, I welcomed them, but there was one thing I was skeptical about. And that is the standpoint, where expression and music are meant to be free, was being underrated or ignored. I believe that the freedom of expression is something that leads to satisfaction.

Yoshida: I see. So it is not enough to just learn the rules of the game and to just gain more points by playing by those rules, right?

PaRappa the Rapper Interview

Matsuura: Exactly. In particular, it is important that music be a freedom of expression. It is a little unfortunate that there were music games that came out after PaRappa that focused on getting 100 out of 100 points.

Yoshida: So I am hearing that you wanted to see more music games where players could express themselves?

Matsuura: At the very least, I would have liked to have had (those games) relay the message of enjoying music and expression. I am okay with the game system itself being one to get 100 points out of 100 points.

The Timeless Appeal of PaRappa After More than 20 Years

Yoshida: During the making of PaRappa, was there anything you wanted to do but could not achieve at the end?

Matsuura: To be honest, I don’t even know the answer myself. When I play PaRappa today, I still find something new from it. Maybe because this game was fueled with our message that imagination and expression should be free. If I look back on PaRappa and wonder if there is anything I could not accomplish, I think there are some things there. It is just that, as a person who is supposed to know PaRappa best, I cannot say that I know everything about it.

“As a person who is supposed to know PaRappa best, I cannot say that I know everything about it.”

Yoshida: As is the custom, a sequel would have been made after the hit of PaRappa the Rapper. However, you decided to make another title instead — UmJammer Lammy. There are certainly similarities between the two titles, but UmJammer Lammy took up a new challenge: playing guitar using analog sticks. Did you want to try a new thing because PaRappa was brought to completion?

PaRappa the Rapper Interview

Matsuura: I just did not think about taking over the same thing. And I never thought of making a first piece of work in expectation of a sequel, which is often the case with recent movies and such. In that sense, maybe we gave everything to perfect PaRappa.

Yoshida: PaRappa and his friends have been loved for a long time, what is the secret?

Matsuura: I cannot really find the answer for this either. But maybe it is because we created this game communicating with people outside of our comfort zone.

Yoshida: After playing it on PS4, I felt this game still offers a fresh experience. What did you think about this version?

Matsuura: I was in awe at how beautiful it looked. (laughs)

PaRappa the Rapper Remastered

Yoshida: PaRappa’s art and concept are fresh and timeless. Is this because of the strong emphasis placed on the art direction and character design?

Matsuura: Yes, I think so.

Yoshida: Due to the rapid progress in computer technology, we often feel let down at the poor visual quality of our old favorite games when we play them after a long time. However, the PS4 version of PaRappa still gives us the same impact as when we first played it on the original PlayStation. I felt as if the image of PaRappa that I had in my mind came back to life on the PS4. I am glad that a younger generation of gamers who have never played this game, or were even not born yet when the game came out, also get to experience PaRappa. Coincidentally, a remastered version of Crash Bandicoot is scheduled to release this year as well. I hope a lot of people will enjoy both PaRappa the Rapper and Crash Bandicoot on PS4.

Matsuura: Definitely, that would be great.

”I Wanted to Make a Game that Puts a Smile on Everyone’s Face”

Yoshida: When you were making PaRappa, how did you want players to enjoy this game?

Matsuura: When we listen to music, we all feel a range of emotions such as encouragement, sadness, etc. But there are not many types of music that make you laugh or cheer you up, besides comedy songs. Even in the creative field where the emphasis is often put on personal expressions and emotions such as delight, anger, sorrow and pleasure, fun and delightful emotions have been somewhat underrated. And I have always thought that it is a deep-rooted issue in this field. So when I decided to make PaRappa, I wanted to make something that puts a smile on everyone’s face. And this concept was shared by many of the staff.

PaRappa the Rapper Remastered

Yoshida: So “making a player feel delighted” served as a basis for your decisions in your creative process.

Matsuura: Yes, it did.

Yoshida: I assume you have seen people playing your game in several events or received letters from fans. Had you expected those reactions?

Matsuura: No, these exceeded my expectations. I presumed that the Japanese audience would understand the jokes or humor of PaRappa to a certain extent. But I had never thought this sense of humor would travel overseas.

Yoshida: This year sees the release of the remastered version on PS4, and I am sure that a lot of people who have never played the series before will play PaRappa for the first time. Now that the time has changed since the first release, how do you think players would take PaRappa?

Matsuura: I have no idea in regards to that. (laughs)

Yoshida: These days, game players not only play games on their own, but also share it with others by live streaming to YouTube and other services. Are you excited to see how they are going to broadcast the gameplay of PaRappa?

Matsuura: Yes, I am excited about that.

PaRappa the Rapper Remastered

Yoshida: I am looking forward to seeing gameplay where, like you said, players use PaRappa as a media to express themselves, not just a game to score perfect points.

Matsuura: That would be ideal. PaRappa features COOL Mode which allows you to go beyond the simple task of mimicking your teacher’s commands. Instead, players can play the game freely. Actually, there is a certain rule you must follow in order to get a high score in COOL Mode. I have seen several gameplay videos uploaded on YouTube before, but I have not seen certain gameplay goals accomplished yet. For instance, I have never seen a player get the highest score with the minimum button input.

Yoshida: A kind of gameplay that cracks the code?

Matsuura: Exactly. I would love to see that kind of challenge. People tend to press the button repeatedly, but I don’t think this game is about that.

Yoshida: Maybe it would work if players channel their inner musician, and play the game like “I would press the button here if I were going to make my own music”

Matsuura: That is one way to enjoy this game, and I would love to see that.

After this interview, Yoshida and Matsuura continued their conversation on several topics including the latest technologies while also playing PaRappa the Rapper on PS4. Occasionally tapping their toes to the rhythm, they were absorbed in the game just like they were over 20 years ago while thinking of the gameplay innovations of the future.

Join in the celebration and play the iconic rhythm game PaRappa the Rapper Remastered, out now for PS4.

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