An Interview with Rodney about Parappa by Austin Bunn for I.D. Magazine

Q:Where did the original concept for the game come from?
A:The game concept came from Masaya Matsuura. He is a musician and pop star in Japan, and a long time experimenter with computers and music. He had been creating a Macintosh based music sequencer. It was fun to use and toy like in many ways. This gave him the idea to create a Rap music sequencing game for the Playstation, which was just being introduced in Japan at the time.

Q:Where did the name "PaRappa" come from?
A:This name was also created by Matsuura. I am not sure how he thought of it. It is kind of a play on words in Japanese. I've come to understand it means "paper thin" and also "a little crazy", which is a good description of the game.

Q:How did you get involved?
A:Matsuura and his wife Kiri were both big fans of my work. I have been doing a lot of work in Japan, and am represented by Interlink Planning, one of the most prestigious visual artist agencies in Japan. My biggest project there is a line of merchandise licenses distributed by Sony Creative Products. I have my own line of character based goods, which were separate from Parappa at that time. It was just a coincidence for Matsuura that I was already working for a division of Sony, because he had always imagined me doing the artwork for the game. The deal went together easily, and I became the master of the visual side of Parappa. It was my idea that he became a dog.

Q:Videogames, art and rap? How did those three come together?
A:Once again this was Matsuura's territory. He loves rap for its patterns and rhythm, and believes it to be a very interactive style of music. I also think he did not want to emphasize the urban or especially the "gangsta" side of rap. He is more interested in a fun musical experience. I think this is one of the reasons he picked me to do the artwork.

Q:How did you and Matsuura collaborate? Through email?
A:Basically Matsurra and Sony Computer would come up with a list of things they needed for the game. In Tokyo, at a big conference table, we would sit around and brainstorm for a week, and then I would return to New York and draw.

Q:How was the game made from your end? Did you sketch then digitally compose the characters?
A: Physically my work involved piles of sketches and storyboards on paper, which at that time were sent by fax with Pantone color specifications. They would FedEx video tapes of animation tests and email stills of the finished characters, which I would comment on or approve.

Q:Why are the characters just 2-D?
A:I think we all agreed from the beginning that the original hand drawn quality of my artwork should be preserved. It is difficult to do that with limited 3D modeling. They created an experiment with my 2D characters dancing around in a 3D space. It looked great, using motion capture technology for the dancing. We all smiled and laughed.

Q:What was the objective of the game?
A:Parappa is a young and hopeful boy dog, who wants to impress his cute daisy like girl friend Sunny Funny. He thinks learning to Rap from various masters will help him do this. These masters include Chop Chop Master Onion - a martial arts teacher, Instructor Mooselini - a driving teacher, Prince Master Fleaswallow - a salesman at a flea market, and a few others.

Q:What was the biggest limitation you faced while designing it?
A:Time. These video games are big productions, and they have to be done fast. My problems included the fact that they are in Tokyo and Osaka, and I am in New York. There was often a time lag while they absorbed my ideas into the existing production.

Q:Were you afraid that the game might seem too cute or bizarre?
A:No.

Q:Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently in the design process?
A:All the things that we learned, and all the things that we want to improve are being worked out in Parappa2. For that reason, the sequel is a bigger challenge than creating the original.

Q:What is your favorite game out there?
A: I really like The Neverhood by Doug TenNapel, Edward Schofield and Mark and Tim Lorenzen, published by Dreamworks.

Austin Bunn
FEED Magazine & Village Voice columnist