Today we're featuring an interview with Kikiyama, the famous developer of the bizarre dream game Yume Nikki. Thanks in advance to those who helped us with contact information and translation assistance.
So, you are Yume Nikki's sole designer. First and foremost, why did you create this game?
Kikiyama: I am very much fascinated by dreams, and have been since I was young. Considering my equal interest in games, I wanted to essentially mesh the two.
How did you begin to formulate the overall structure of the game? Why did you choose to have it be purely exploration-based, rather than driven by a plot?
Kikiyama: When I was fairly certain the game's premise would involve the exploration of dreams, I started by devising level layouts and ideas. My goal was to create settings which were both original and captivating to the player. I drew some inspiration from dreams I have had over the years, but I tried not to let the game be too centered toward my own subconscious experiences. Regarding the gameplay, I chose to omit a storyline because I felt this might be too restricting on the player. I wanted the experience to be as nonlinear and unconfined as possible. Such, in my view, reflects the nature of dreams: seamless and open-ended.
What aspects of the game did you begin with first, in terms of graphics, music, characters, and so on?
Kikiyama: I started by producing simple sketches of areas, visual themes, characters, monsters, etc. From here I was able to reproduce these ideas in the more simple graphical style of a 2D adventure game. My compositional choices, in terms of the soundtrack, reflected the visual design and layout of each area in the game. I strove to create musical pieces that properly conveyed and exemplified the levels within the game.
How difficult was it to make all of the elements of the game work together? Connecting the various areas via hidden passageways, allowing for player interactivity with certain objects depending on the items/abilities you have, and so on? Was this much of a daunting task for you at all?
Kikiyama: It demanded a strong degree of attention and care, certainly. However, considering my interest in the subject I was working with, I was very determined to get things right. In order to successfully engage the player, you must have the game make sense--a disorganized, disarrayed entanglement of irrelevant ideas and concepts will never work, not even when dealing with a game about dreams. While plot-based coherence was not a central focus of mine, organization of the gameplay was. My task was difficult, but not impossible.
How did you manage to take the time to spend working on Yume Nikki? Surely you must have had a rough time devoting so much to this kind of a project.
Kikiyama: Yes, well, naturally I had to alternate between my job-related priorities, personal life, and other distractions, and development of the game. As is the case, however, I spend much of my time at home and seldom go out anyway. You might say I am as withdrawn as my character. To a certain extent, at least.
We do want to ask several things about the game's main character, Madotsuki, and various other themes in the game. To begin, where did you draw your inspiration for her?
Kikiyama: Madotsuki was based on a girlfriend I had many years ago, who was highly withdrawn and introverted. A year or two after I broke up with her, I learned that she had committed suicide. Though I no longer felt as emotionally bound to her as I once had, the loss moved me, and I chose to base Yume Nikki's character on her. Her reclusive tendencies fit well with a game about escaping into the worlds of one's dreams.
Were any other characters or features in the game based on family members or friends of yours in real life?
Kikiyama: For the most part, no. The piano man in the Mars-bound spaceship was based on a piano teacher of mine from my childhood, but other than that, virtually everything came from imagination. Save a few things.
Now, there are some utterly strange creatures and beings in Yume Nikki. Would you mind telling us a little perhaps about Uboa, or the flying balloon monster in the white desert, or any other monsters?
Kikiyama: Uboa is of course the alternate form of a young girl, who starts out with a rather normal appearance. I don't like to discuss it so much, but a girl I was strongly attracted to in high school was the basis for this character, or pair of characters. This girl would often act nicely toward me whenever we interacted, though I eventually found she had deep contempt for me, knowing I liked her. She was a rather promiscuous type and felt I was unworthy, I suppose. Uboa in essense represents her true side, one might say. The flying balloon in the white desert was merely an idea I came up with, and since it was so useless, I felt, I made it appear only under rare circumstances. Regarding other monsters, you may have to be a little more specific.
Well, what about the strange staircase monster, or the face in the doorway beyond it? What about the toriningen, particularly the ones picnicing in the desert? What about all the odd creatures strewn throughout the dream worlds?
Kikiyama: The staircase monster, the disturbing face, and most of the game's other creatures were just ideas, some derived from nightmares of mine. Toriningen, however, do represent some of the people I knew during my childhood, many of whom openly despised and rejected me. I was generally not welcomed within social groups at and outside of school, and my inability to truly mingle and get along with people inspired me to create the toriningen.
Would you say that this separation from people contributed to the very isolated feel of the game?
Kikiyama: Yes, without a doubt.
Why did you choose not to include dialogue in Yume Nikki?
Kikiyama: I did not want to be too explicit in my method of expression. I enjoy leaving interpretational decisions up to the player. Dialogue may have made certain elements of the game too clear or unambiguous, which would not have stayed true to the theme of dreams. When you dream, things are not simply laid out or explained to you--you must come up with your own interpretation, which of course may or may not be definitively "right" or "wrong". There is no "right" answer on dreams.
You have remained extremely hidden from the gaming community over the years, never speaking with players or giving direct, personal thoughts on the game or offering other ideas of yours. Why is this?
Kikiyama: In all honesty I am a very private person, and I prefer to be discrete in what I say and when I say it. The game does all the talking for me, one might argue.
Lastly, do you have any plans to continue or expand upon Yume Nikki's design?
Kikiyama: Yes. I have been experimenting with new additions to the game and trying various ideas out, seeing what works and what does not. It may be several years before I am prepared to release the next version, however.
Thanks very much for taking the time to answer our questions, and we wish you luck with all of your various projects and endeavors in the future.
Kikiyama: Thank you very much.