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Notes on ZUN’s Genyou Denshou Lecture



ZUN’s lecture at Hitotsubashi University has been concluded, and the reports are in! Thanks go to those who provided notes, and a huge thank you to Solamarle for translating and compiling the Japanese summaries for us.

For the Readers’ Digest version: ZUN spoke on the construction of MoF, including the folklore that forms much of the game’s foundation and the reasoning behind creating another new game after PoFV. He’s also revealed that he wants to try to reproduce the MoF schedule next year, with a demo release at Reitaisai (5/25/2008, to be held at Tokyo Big Sight) and a final release at Summer Comiket. 

ZUN went on to talk about the entirety of Touhou as a body of work, including games, CDs, and manga. He doesn’t consider Touhou as a series, since to him that carries a connotation of shoving out another new game with the same title just to gain sales. He also addressed some rumors of a Touhou anime, indicating that it’s not terribly likely just from the amount of creative work that’d be involved, as well as possible copyright complications.

The final part of the lecture again reviewed ZUN’s opinion on the changing state of the gaming industry, particularly in regards to commercialization; going from the early NES days where creativity was widespread, to growing commercial concerns with the SNES, a return to more innovation with the Playstation and the slow slide into commercialization that we’re seeing now. His final thoughts were to encourage everyone to make games who’s got an idea, and for fledgling developers to stick to their projects and see them come to fruition.

You can click on this post to read the entirety of Solamarle’s summary.

After finishing PoFV, ZUN decided he needed to take a break. He was wondering if he should make another Touhou game, and thought he’d wait until the number of fans died down a bit. The fanbase only increased, however, and he ended up making MoF anyway.

The idea of faith in MoF came from turning around the idea of how people tend to crowd around the things they love. Some participants, and later several people on 2ch, suggested that MoF was a parody of the situation in the fanbase around the time of its release.

The Suwa mythology was well known in ZUN’s area when he was growing up, but it’s not well known now. (He asked for people who knew about it to raise their hands, and most didn’t.) So, he thought it would be interesting to retell it and put his own spin on it. Even so, he hasn’t attended the Onbashira festival, or other major Suwa-based ceremonies. People might hold offline meetings at the Suwa shrine, but they should be respectful and not do anything too flashy, like leave weird votive pictures (BUN!). The Moriya Shrine isn’t based on the Suwa shrine, as it would have taken too much research.

“Inari is one of the most popular Japanese gods, but a lot is written about Suwa, as well. Still, Suwa is a rain god, so perhaps it’s not such a good idea to have a feast in his honor on a day like this … “

Touhou is not a series to ZUN – the word implies the sort of game where you put out another version just to add “~2” or “~3” to the name so you can make more money off the franchise. The point of Touhou is to express the worldview of Touhou, not to make money, so it’s not a series. … but, it’s a series! As Touhou evolves, the characters and the game systems change, but the basic feel remains the same. Also, each game has something of its own theme. The games before MoF were mostly based around the feel of various seasons, but not MoF – it didn’t necessarily need to be an autumn game. The theme of MoF was relationships between poeple. (Relationships with gods can be considered one facet of this.) (Why wasn’t there a winter game? Well, it’s hard to see bullets in snowstorms … )

Similarly, the music CDs are all part of the Touhou body of work, just as much as the games or anything else, even though they’re mostly not directly related to the part of the world the games explore. It’s like the current “media mix” project – it’s all a way to make the world of Touhou deeper and more interesting. And, ZUN wants to try new, interesting, different things – which is why he’s usually covering new grounds in new works, rather than just creating comic translations of the game plots.

And, on that note, there’s lots of talk about “what if there were a Touhou anime”, but it’s not likely to happen – a new medium would require a new plot and new characters and all of that work *plus* the work of actually doing the animation would be just way too much for one person (even though some people DO do it alone). In addition, involving lots of other people would make questions like copyright a lot more complex, so his philosophy is that it’s best just to leave it be.

Now, more about Bougetsushou. The idea for the current Touhou multimedia blitz began to take shape before MoF. As development for MoF progressed, he decided it would be better not to base it on that – which only he knew anything about at the time – but rather to leverage older works everyone knew well.The announcer asked if he’d thought about doing a non-Touhou work, if it’s not a series – and he had. But, since he’d still be the creator, his “world view” would probably be the same, so what would be the point?

ZUN’s plan for now is to focus on games, even with all the cross-media stuff. He thought it might be interesting to write a touch screen game for the DS (see quote below), or a card game of some sort. A new game takes about a year to develop, but this is starting to squeeze down to half a year. Still, it gets hectic close to the end as Comiket looms nearer.

At this point, the announcer’s questions began to thin out, and the conversation slowed for a bit … until ZUN started really getting going and the period of, as one reporter put it, “Super Kannushi Time” began. First came ties of games to food. ZUN noted that on the way there that day he hadn’t had a chance to eat, so he had some okonomiyaki and beer at a stand on the way in and the cabbage in the okonomiyaki tasted rather fresh. Back in the days of the PSX, he and others would end up coming up with crazy ideas mostly as a joke (that perhaps they came up with in a pub) that would actually end up getting made, not that they always did well. He really liked these “pub projects”, and wanted to see more games like that. His design is more serious nowadays, but serious games seem to be more popular. Still, Sega releases really crazy things every once in a while – playing the part of loveable dummies.

Doujin games, which don’t have to worry about high profit margins and huge returns, have the opportunity to do whatever they want more often, which is good – ZUN doesn’t like what seems to be the current trend that it has to be all serious to succeed. Further, the distance between users and developers has shrunk considerably – criticism can pop up on the net almost instantly, even from people who haven’t really played the game. So, developers can’t spend too much time worrying about others’ reviews and criticisms. If people hated it 100%, they wouldn’t even bother with reviews. It’s normal for people to be vocal in their complaints. Of course, if he actually said this online there’d be no end to it – which seems to be why he prefers venues such as this symposium.

The NES days were really the dawn of the gaming era, so there were no standards then – people were able to make whatever they damn well pleased. By the days of the Super NES, though, studios started to worry about whether things would sell. But, strangely, it seemed only Nin- er, the big N could turn a profit. But by the time Sony came around, the relative freedom of the earlier days returned for a while.Regarding the recent trend of commercializing doujin games, ZUN doesn’t see the point. Doujin games, he says, take a totally different stance than the industry does – if you want to use the doujin world as a “stepping stone” into the industry, it’s better and more straightforward to just start out professional. Of course, the doujin world is a world of freedom, so it’s up to each circle to decide their own destiny. In the end, ZUN is afraid that if the relation between the commercial world and the doujin world becomes too close, it will be to the detriment of the independent developers.

At this point – about 35 minutes in – the talk turned to how one could distinguish Touhou from commercial series. Established franchises are everywhere – “no-one plays a series from game 1 anymore.” Even game systems have gotten to that point. At some point the relationships between the games break down, and you get to where you just put the Final Fantasy name on your project to get it approved by the higher-ups and make it sell. Once your characters are all different and your works are all unrelated it’s too late. Even the Mario series is stretched a bit thin, but the Mario name puts people at ease, and the gameplay more or less follows the established pattern. The name is important though – names sell – *brands* sell – and money is the raison d’etre of the game industry. Even original games recycle famous directors, artists, or composers, and have to sell above all else.The recent upsurge in doujin games is refreshing. A lot of doujin games are distributed online and spread by word of mouth.The nice thing about series, though, is that it lets you expand the world view you’re trying to express. This is what ZUN is trying to do with Touhou. There’s never a “XXX 2” or a “Touhou Director’s Cut”, and the story just keeps on going forever. This probably wouldn’t work if done by a commercial work, but for some reason it works for Touhou.

ZUN is a bit of a nostalgic at heart, but he tries to avoid dwelling on it, since remembering the glories of the old days makes it harder to want to move ahead into the future, and he basically wants to keep creating new things.

ZUN likes touchpens, and likes the DS, though a major problem with the design is that your hand obscures part of the lower screen, and it’s hard to keep things to one side because what if a left-handed person plays, then? ZUN is awaiting the day the Saturn storms into Virtual Console. Modern load times are an issue, even though the hardware has progressed so much since the cartridge days.

ZUN: “Nintendo’s Wii and DS are very interesting.”
Announcer: “Have you ever thought, ‘It would be nice to make a game for this?'”
ZUN: “Well, yes. Things like, ‘Hmm, it would be interesting to do that to Reimu with a touch pen … “
Announcer: “Ummm.”

ZUN’s view on originality is that there really isn’t that much in this world – basically everything is imitating or building on something else. “We all learn by watching others.” It’s best to merely respect what’s come before – not to try to claim it as one’s own, or to deviate too far from the original intent of the work.

At this point it’s been about 50 minutes and there’s a beer intermission – a staff member comes back with a can of Asahi dry. ZUN makes a few remarks over intermission – the latest game he’s played is Mario Galaxy, and he usually can’t sleep after buyng a new game so he just plays all the time. Lately he’d been busy at work, but hopefully the next few days would let up a bit. A few of his remarks follow…

(Is it okay to drink?) Well, today’s a special day. It’s a day of culture. Beer is culture, too.
Lately, it seems all I’ve been doing is drinking.
You can’t drink can beer all at once.
Nono, the opening’s too small, and the head doesn’t froth up properly.
And, it’s nice and bitter.
You have to take small sips.

And so, habitual beer in hand, the Priest of Wonderland begins to talk about the use of serialization in game production. For example, the ability to reuse game data and engines is an enormous time saver. Reuse in itself isn’t bad – it really depends on the intent of the developer. Especially with small groups or individual developers, serialization can be a wonderful way for developers to build on their previous works to make something continually better and better.

It’s been done, but it’s hard to end a series once it’s started – it has to be ended by someone. Series don’t really *have* to end. Touhou will probably never really end until ZUN dies. It’s like a conversation that can keep going forever, and ZUN is bad at coming up with good endings that aren’t tragic.

The conversation turns to Bougetsushou, and its relationship to IN. ZUN says the world of IN was difficult to do much with because all of its characters held their secrets so close to themselves. It was all just a big mystery. This is a chance to expand on that world. It didn’t necessarily need to be published in three separate parts (Silent Sinner in Blue, the main plotline drawn by Aki Eda; Cage in Lunatic Runagate, the short stories with illustrations by Tokiame; and Inaba of the Earth and Moon, by Toshihira Arata) but it was suggested by the publisher – so was the 4 panel comic idea, actually. ZUN thought they were interesting, so ran with it. The Inaba comics are not very closely overseen by ZUN – Arata has lots of leeway with them.

Incidentally, the publishers sought out ZUN for this venture – not the other way around.

The original rules for what to do and what not to do with Touhou-derived works were from when there were really only three or four circles producing Touhou-related material. “I hear [the rules] are still around today.” And now, we’ve come to today, where Touhou is extremely popular on Nico Nico. (ZUN wonders why Touhou in particular is so popular with fan creators – it’s very interesting.) ZUN thinks Nico is an interesting place that makes it easy for people to create new works by tying together existing things – which is the essence of creation. (Just uploading CDs and TV episodes, of course, is not creation, and is not interesting.) Following the progressions of evolutions from original works will probably result in something entirely new.

Incidentally, ZUN likes Hatsune Miku, and wonders if her(?) appearance hasn’t helped more people find Touhou. Generally, ZUN hopes that as old people drift on to other things, or even remain in the fanbase, new people will also come in, and everyone will get along, basically without caring who showed up when.

Announcer: “What will you do for your 20th work?”
ZUN: “I’ll probably be dead from alcohol poisoning by then.”

Apparently, ZUN’s dream is to become a bartender, and live a leisurely life full of alcohol.

MC: “What have you learned from creating the same work over and over?”
ZUN: ” … it’s really tiring!”

Different people have different views about the same games, and it’s interesting to see different users’ reactions. This is one reason why it’s important to have new people from time to time – it helps move things forward. It’s also very important to balance the difficulty level so that both old hats and newcomers can enjoy the game, but it’s hard to find that balance.

And then, a Q&A session – first questions submitted from the webpage, then questions from the audience.

MC: “There were a lot of questions about alcohol, weren’t there?”
ZUN: “Just so I can say this up front, remember, I’m *not* a character from Gensokyo.”

Q: Are there any pictures of you from Reitaisai where you weren’t holding beer?
ZUN: *puts down his beer* Of course there were.
-> ZUN feels uncomfortable if he doesn’t have beer or cell phones nearby
-> His blog IS a beer blog

Q: What were the easiest and hardest character designs?
ZUN: Hmm … Well, the last bosses were hard. … You end up really anticipating the last bosses. The easiest character … Extra bosses are usually pretty simple, since it’s an anti-climax. The easiest was probably Cirno, since her design is so simple.

(There are a few guesses at what ZUN actually said the hardest character was. The most people thought he said Keine, though a few thought maybe it was Yuyuko or Remilia. The fluffy skirt was difficult, in any case, which sounds more like Keine, but she isn’t a last boss … )

Q: How much do you read?
ZUN: I buy way too many books. But, I never clean up, and I never throw things out, so it’s pretty bad. Usually not from book stores, but online from places like Amazon and eBooks. I have … a lot at my house. It’s a hobby. I even have things like photo collections of lakes, and Shinto dictionaries.

Q: When did you start getting the ideas for Touhou?
ZUN: Oh! Oh! Touhou as it is today really started coming together with EoSD. The original ideas started in college, no, high school. There weren’t any shrine maiden games then, so I thought it would be neat to make one, and I’m still making them. Come to think of it, there seem to be a lot these days – maids, too. Akihabara is full of mystical creatures like maids and shrine maidens now.

Q: How do you come up with spell card names?
ZUN: It’s pretty hard. The names have less to do with the story, and more to do with the image I have for the character. I try to come up with good ideas from lots of things I’ve seen in the past.

Q: What are your feelings about the Ministry of Culture recommendation?
ZUN: That really surprised me. It would be really fun to be chosen, but it would be really odd to be recognized by my country for something. I think it would be nice not to become too mainstream. Still, if I were to win, I’d accept. It’d be exciting.

Q: What age are Marisa and Reimu now?
ZUN: Hmm, it’s been twelve years, just how old *is* Reimu, anyway? If I say how old she is, she’ll have to keep getting older. Suffice it to say they’re getting older. Besides, if she gets too old, I’m afraid some day she’d get too old to play danmaku.

Q: How do you feel when you’re selling your works at Comiket?
ZUN: I’m too busy to think about it, haha …
Q: I see. it’s hard enough doing the buying, the selling must be crazy.
ZUN: Yes. Normally, people will be ready with a 1000 yen bill when it’s their turn, but sometimes people will space out and get all surprised and have to get out their wallet when it’s their turn. Maybe they should let the person behind them have a turn while they’re getting ready … in the end, I just want it to be over.

Q: Do you keep up a stock of ideas in your head?
ZUN: Yes. Things like, characters and bullet patterns for new games. Of course, I can’t remember as much as I used to.

Q: What’s happened to the older characters? Like Alice, Yuka-san, and Mima-sama …
ZUN: Well, it would be a huge pain to try to bring in older characters all the time. They’d show up, and everyone would be, “Where have you been all this time!?” It’d be weird to fit them into the story. And, I’d rather make new characters. Of course, I won’t say they’ll never show up again … Hm, Genjii? Well, Reimu can fly, so she doesn’t need him anymore. *g* He’s kind of a Master Roshi character. But he’s a turtle, and turtles are long-lived. He’s probably peacefully living out his days in a pond behind the shrine.

Q: Have you ever thought about doing a horizontal shooter?
ZUN: Yes. But, the danmaku wouldn’t work as well, and it’s harder to have symmetry, so I don’t really like the feel. In the end, I guess I’m just a vertical arcade shooter fan.

Q: How do you come up with the music for the games?
ZUN: By thinking about the characters, the stages, and the bullet patterns. And drinking. If the song is strong enough, I might change the stage to better match up with it.

Q: What do you do when you’re having trouble coming up with ideas?
ZUN: I’ll think about what I was least satisfied with about the last game and try to improve it. Or, if I was pretty satisfied with the last game, I’ll try to make even more of it. Still, I’m doing all of this alone, so …

Q: So, if you stay near the middle in Apollo 13, you won’t get hit …(From “That guy over there that looks like Hamaguchi”)
ZUN: Yeah, pretty cool, huh?
Q: Do you do that on purpose?
ZUN: Sometimes. *g* Safe zones are usually intentional, but … why are they there in Starbow Break, or Border of Life and Death? They were supposed to be more random. I guess if my math were better it might not happen.

Q: Aren’t there a bit too many characters?
ZUN: Maybe. It’s a doujin work, so I make them more or less as I see fit, which maybe isn’t always what my users want. I don’t want to just build up a group of super popular characters, but I suppose that’s what I’d have to do in industry.

Q: Why is the setting in modern times?(From “the guy with thick eyebrows”)
ZUN: Well, I live in modern times, so it makes it much easier. And I get to include things like rockets. If I had a setting in the past, I’d have to study a lot of history.

Q: Why did you get rid of spell practice and character bombs?
ZUN: Because the whole idea behind MoF was to go back to basics with the system and such. I don’t think I would have been able to do it if it weren’t a doujin production. Spell Practice is one of those things that it’s really hard to take out what you’ve put back in, and it’s nice for debugging, too …

Q: What are your plans for Reitaisai next year?
ZUN: I’d like to put out a new game demo, and try to release the full version at summer Comiket again.

Q: What about the idea of having Reitaisai at Big Sight?
ZUN: I have some misgivings, but with the size of the event I think it’s the best thing to do. And, it’s easy to get to by car. But, I usually want to have a drink on the way home, so that’s probably not a good idea … It’s a pretty long haul by train, though.

Q: Where do you get your ideas for the characters?
ZUN: The strong ones, from the story. The weaker ones – stage 2 boss and below, or so – I just kind of come up with. You need to have a sense for the unusual.

Q: Would you ever release scores for your music?(From “the half-afro guy”)
ZUN: Well, you couldn’t exactly play it as is, so I’d have to arrange it or something … I don’t really have the time to go to all that trouble. Maybe one or two, somewhere.

Q: What about the character reset? I wanted to play the head maid in MoF …
ZUN: Well, it’s not that big of a deal. It’s not like they’re gone, they just don’t really get screen time. It would have been weird for Sakuya to show up in MoF.

Q: What would you most highly recommend for people who don’t play games?
ZUN: Hm, maybe Nintendo games. It’s fine to start out with well known games – say, Mario Galaxy or Zelda or Wii Sports. And then, they should pretty much branch out into whatever they want. Even into becoming total fanatics. I can’t really said I’d want them to play shooting games – it wouldn’t be fair to force my opinions on others. And, starting out with danmaku games …

Announcer: And now it’s time for the Q&A session to end.
ZUN: Aww.

In closing:
To those who wish to make games: Just try it. Don’t worry too much about the details.
If you come to a part where you need to think it out, think it out.
You can’t let yourself get caught up worrying about all the details.
So, I don’t know if there are any aspiring developers here, but please, keep at it.

(Note: the term “derivative works” is NOT used in the American legal sense below.)In general, feel free to create derivative works – I don’t really mind.If you ask, I won’t say no. The basic rule is that derivative works aresomething entirely different from the original. It’s not mine, and thereisn’t really anything I could do to stop it if I wanted to, and it would be bad if I did, I think.



  1. November 9th, 2007 | 1:04 pm

    I can’t thank you enough for the translation of this.
    Sometimes it’s nice to see what ZUN thinks about his own works and such.

    …I hope he makes it to the 20th game before he died.

  2. hc
    November 9th, 2007 | 4:48 pm

    Err, I’m not sure how that happened, but yeah, you can delete that

    Also thanks for the translations, it was a great read

  3. Killer Queen
    November 9th, 2007 | 5:47 pm

    Long live our alcoholic leader! And he likes Miku too, isn’t that great? Well, everybody likes Miku these days.

    Anyways, good job with the translation.

  4. marisako
    November 9th, 2007 | 8:21 pm

    hmm, so he loves Miku ? good, very good.
    wont that means the next game will have Reimu etc voiced by Miku (or the next VOCALOIDs) ? :V

  5. November 9th, 2007 | 10:07 pm

    I can’t believe I actually read that whole thing. It was interesting though, and I think I learned a lot about ZUN and the series in general. I just wonder how many times the word “beer” was used in the transcript/explanation.

  6. Anonamousey
    November 10th, 2007 | 1:36 am

    Woo~ I actually read that…
    ZUN can sure juggle work and beer. Kinda inspiring too. Don’t “Work and Beer” sound good to anyone? I’m just really impressed though. Thanx for the translation.
    … Beer… and alcoLOL… something seems to fit whenever I say think that now…
    Banzai, ZUN! Banzai!

  7. shadowbringer
    November 10th, 2007 | 7:31 am

    Thank you very much for the translations and the transcription!
    This was really informative.. and answered many interesting questions ^^ (such as the older characters whereabouts, spellcard practice, Touhou anime)

    I’m waiting for his new game :p
    (however.. despite the balance of newcomers and hardcore players.. I still wish that this new game could have, perhaps, a Phantasm-like challenge after the Extra Stage, since it wouldn’t be interesting to make Normal Mode harder — I was kinda downed when I knew that people managed to see the MoF’s Extra Stage in the very first day of its release. Okay, I’m not good enough, but still.. :D)

  8. Named Fairy
    November 10th, 2007 | 11:39 am

    This article must be very interesting for people to finish reading it from start to end…including me. Bu, I dont get his point for the Touhou anime. “..a new medium would require a new plot and new characters…” Why couldn’t he just used an existing entry of the series like PCB as his plot? I thought PCB’s story was the best.

    Also, 2nd question was LOL: ” Are there any pictures of you from Reitaisai where you weren’t holding beer?”

  9. Solamarle
    November 10th, 2007 | 12:08 pm

    “Why couldn’t he just used an existing entry of the series like PCB as his plot?”

    Have another read through the article:
    * Because he doesn’t like the sort of series that does lots of remakes
    * Because he essentially wants to keep making new things

  10. Losstarot
    November 10th, 2007 | 12:19 pm

    Very interesting; makes me wish I could buy ZUN a drink or twenty.

  11. Mima
    November 12th, 2007 | 8:43 am

    “Q: What’s happened to the older characters? Like Alice, Yuka-san, and Mima-sama …
    ZUN: Of course, I won’t say they’ll never show up again …”

    There’s still a chance!

  12. angel199x
    December 3rd, 2007 | 1:55 am

    thank you for the translation.
    wished it never ended… but i am happy to know that ZUN will keep making games til he dies…TOUHOU AND BEER 4 LIFE.

  13. Keiichi!!!!
    August 23rd, 2009 | 3:50 pm

    i hope he keeps this up with his work the Touhou series are really nice to play and to read or listen to the entire consept is pretty cool

  14. Custard
    January 23rd, 2010 | 6:19 am

    (I dont like Miku, shoot me.)

    but anyway, This was quite interesting to read.

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