INTERVIEW: Emerson Matsuuchi

Emerson Matsuuchi, born 1975 in Los Angeles, California USA, is a software developer and game designer. He started making games at the age of eight, but it wasn’t until 2012 that he broke into the gaming industry with his company Nazca Games. Now he is a well-established game designer at Plan B Games, Plaid Hat Games … and now HeidelBÄR Games. VOLT is a completely revised version of VOLT – Robot Battle Arena, published at Nazca in 2014.

We asked Emerson to answer a few questions:

  • You took your first steps as a designer at a young age. What was your intention at the time?
    When I was young, my first attempt at making a game was using the Dungeons & Dragons RPG system and creating a game about giant robots fighting. At that time, it was something I wanted to make for my friends to play as we all had a love of robots. Looking back now, VOLT was the game that I really wanted to make back then. So in a way, VOLT was over 30 years in the making. 🙂x
  • Boardgames and SciFi are often considered “nerdy”. Do you see yourself as a nerd?
    Absolutely. Growing up in the 1980s and spending time with computers and robot models, it was impossible to not be labeled as a nerd.
  • What is your fascination with robots?
    I’m Japanese so I’m convinced that it is in the DNA.
  • Do you have hobbies, besides boardgames? Are you a boardgame collector?
    Gaming has always been my biggest hobby. I don’t have enough space in my home to be a collector, but I believe I have over 300 games now.
  • You probably play a lot of boardgames, but can you ever play just for fun, or is your brain always making you think about game mechanics and stuff?
    It’s hard not to analyze the game while playing it. I still do enjoy playing the games even though my mind is dissecting the mechanics.
  • Do you still have a day job besides designing board games?
    In the past few years, designing games has taken up so much of my time that I no longer have any time at all to develop software.  So I’m now a full-time game designer.  I hope I’ll be able to have some spare time in the future to develop some game apps.
  • Why did you found your own company Nazca Games? Was it that difficult to find publishers for your games in the beginning?
    I actually wanted to be a publisher in the beginning. I didn’t see myself as a game designer, and believed that my project management and development skills were better than my skills at designing game mechanics.
  • Why Nazca Games? What’s your connection to the Nazca Lines in Peru?
    The Nazca Lines have stood the test of time. The vision for the studio was to create games that would do the same.
  • Your games often show the logo of label Nazca Games alongside the logo of the publishers. Why is that?
    It is something we see quite often in the video game industry where you will see two (or more) companies responsible for a title. One company is the developer and the other is the publisher. We are starting to see this become common in the board game industry as well.
  • What is your personal favorite amongst your own games and why?
    Specter OPS has a lot of sentimental value to me. It was the first game that was published by another publisher. It has opened many doors, including the introduction to Heidelberger Spieleverlag.
  • What is your typical process of developing a board game? Do you usually start with a theme or with a game mechanism?
    Each game seems to have a different starting point. Sometimes there is an interesting mechanic that I would like to explore. Other times, a theme inspires me to create something that will capture a certain feeling, emotion, and/or experience.
    The first milestone for starting the development process is to create a prototype. It does not need to work properly. And in the first playtest, very often the rules of the game will change from turn to turn. Then after each playtest, the design is improved incrementally.
  • How many times do you playtest a game before you present it to publishers?
    There is no specific number. A game design is playtested over and over until you stop making changes. At that point I would consider presenting it to a publisher.
  • VOLT changed a lot from the original VOLT robot battle arena. What changes do you like the most? Is there something you liked better before?
    The new control board is much better. But I think minis with square bases work better than the round bases.
Setup VOLT – Robot Battle Arena
Setup VOLT
  • Can you bear playing your own games after they are published?
    Secretly I enjoy playing my own games but I never suggest playing them during game night.
  • If you by some means would end up winning $10 million, what would you change?
    I feel I’m already living a dream having game design be my full-time job. But if I had that much capital to work with, I would create a small game development studio to make some retro RPG video games. And of course, I would make a Giant Size version of VOLT for conventions.

April, 2019.