A.I. The Somnium Files Interview with Mr. Kotaro Uchikoshi and Mr. Akira Okada — Where, oh where, has A-Set gone?
Yesterday I had the amazing opportunity to interview Kotaro Uchikoshi and Akira Okada, the Director and Assistant Director respectively of the upcoming game being published by Spike Chunsoft, A.I. The Somnium Files, at GDC 2019. Originally announced as Project Psync back at GDC in March 2017, Mr. Uchikoshi has been returning to the US to announce updates about the title over the past two years. At Anime Expo last summer Mr. Uchikoshi and Spike Chunsoft announced the games permanent title as well as screening the first trailer. Since then, we’ve been getting snippets of the story via YouTube and Twitter, plus today’s big reveal of a second trailer and the release date.
I’ve gone ahead and written up a summary of the story so far for anybody who is curious about the context of the interview, since it relies heavily on knowledge of the Alternate Reality Game-like experience that has been running since this past January. If you’re already familiar with the context and want to jump to the interview directly, scroll down to the break.
A-Set, you bet!
Before jumping into the interview though, I’d like to take a moment to recap everything we know so far. Most of the information revealed about A.I. The Somnium Files has been revealed via weekly vlog updates posted by Iris Sagan, also known as the Net Idol A-Set. Iris was recruited by the President of the fictional company Lemniscate, Mr. Renju Okiura, to be their first High School Idol after seeing her work at another one of his businesses. You can view her debut single above, though be warned, it’s pretty catchy and will probably be stuck in your head for a bit.
Things started getting weird as Iris began using the platform Lemniscate gave her to inform her audience of Naixatloz, a “devil worshiping demon cult” that supposedly has politicians, important business men, and other influential people as a part of its large member base. Each time she mentioned Naixatloz her videos would glitch out in ways that weren’t there when she uploaded them originally, usually containing some kind of warning message. These threats got more and more serious as time went on. She posted about this and other things on her Twitter, such as introducing us to her friends Ota Matsuhita. On March 13th a video was uploaded to her channel that depicted her apartment, empty, with indications that some kind of a break in had occured. Since then neither Ota, Iris’ mom, nor her producer Mr. Uchikoshi have heard from or seen her.
I’ve been a fan of this kind of cross-media storytelling for years, and as a fan of Mr. Uchikoshi’s past work, as soon as I saw A-Set’s debut announcement I started following along. Being able to interact with characters personally via channels like Twitter, and following their stories evolve live adds another level of engagement that I really hope other game developers/marketing departments take notice of. I’m definitely way more hyped for A.I. The Somnium Files given this campaign (I just want Ota to be okay!), and am counting down the days until it’s July 25th release date.
Back to the story, the A.I. The Somnium Files community had several leads that we were trying to follow up on going into GDC, knowing that Mr. Uchikoshi himself would be in attendance:
- What exactly was the meaning behind A-Set’s single, Invincible Rainbow Arrow? Ota himself had mentioned that we needed to “really hear her music”, which was interpreted to mean that we’re missing something potentially big from the song.
- Who exactly is Mr. Okiura, the President of Lemniscate? What his his relationship to the Okiura Fishery Cold Storage Warehouse message that Ota unearthed online?
- Where is Iris? Who kidnapped her and why? Is she going to be okay? (please let her be okay)
Unfortunately, not all of the answers to these questions are...well, good. But you can see that for yourself with the transcript of my interview below.
Gabby Snyder: How are you doing today, Mr. Uchikoshi? Are you feeling okay?
Kotaro Uchikoshi: [said via translator] Yes but — I’m really tired.
GS: I can imagine, this is such a big convention. Thank you again for this opportunity. I’ve been a big fan of your work since 999 and it’s been a wild ride and I can’t wait to see where we’re going with A.I. The Somnium Files.
KU: Thank you.
GS: Mr. Okada, you worked on Zero Escape 3 with Mr. Uchikochi as a Game Designer. Do you have any memories or lessons you’ve learned from that project that you’ve brought into your Assistant Director role for A.I?
Akira Okada: [said via translator] After working with [Mr. Uchikoshi] on ZE 3, I feel like I’m more trusted and I can do a lot more things. I think that Mr. Uchikoshi is a brand himself, so I needed to make a game that would align with his brand and let his fans have fun.
GS: Mr. Uchikoshi, if you had to describe your brand, how would you describe it?
KU: My taste, my brand — Usually, with a regular game, there is a main character and there are sub characters that support the main character. But in my games, everybody is a main character. I believe I brought that over into A.I. as well.
GS: A-Set, also known as Iris Sagan, is she one of the main characters in your mind for A.I.?
KU: She is a main character, but everybody else is equally important.
GS: Mr. Uchikoshi, you mentioned that you were influenced by Policenauts, by Hideo Kojima, when making A.I. Were there any other games you or Mr. Okada felt like you were influenced by when coming up with the scenario for A.I.?
KU: E.V.E. and Silver Case.
GS: One of the themes that you’ve mentioned is prevalent is A.I. — “Love” (in Japanese), and Artificial Intelligence. Were there any other themes that you were looking to highlight with this game?
KU: In Japanese, you can use different kanji to represent [the sound] “AI”. On top of love, and Artificial Intelligence, you can interpret it as “I”, me/myself, and the kanji for being sad. Those kind of emotional things.
AO: Dreams and memories.
GS: I have a lot of questions about A-Set, if that’s okay! I’ve been having a lot of fun interacting with A-Set over Twitter, meeting her friends, and seeing her world. What has been your favorite part about working with A-set, behind the scenes?
KU: Right now I’m super worried about her, I need to look for her. My heart is about to blow up.
GS: Can we help you look for her?
KU: Do you have any information?
GS: A friend of mine, got a clue — “Okiura Fishery Cold Storage Warehouse” — Mr. Okiura, is a friend of yours right? Do you know what this could mean?
KU: I didn’t think about that, I’ll give him a call after this.
GS: How did you and Mr. Okiura meet?
KU: I wonder, when was that…I forgot the exact details, but I remember it was somewhere you can go to drink. That was where we met each other.
GS: What was it like working with Mr. Okiura when creating “Invincible Rainbow Arrow”?
KU: Mr. Okiura composed the music, and Iris wrote the lyrics, so…I wonder what was it I did…? I basically just produced it, but I’m glad it came out well.
GS: Did you help with the dance moves?
KU: I didn’t make them, but I did check them. *laughs*
GS: Do you have any insight into what inspired Iris’ lyrics for her song?
KU: I really want to tell you, but…it’s related to the game. If you play the game, little by little, you’ll see the meaning behind the words from the lyrics.
GS: One of my favorite parts of Iris’ videos have been the myths and legends that she talks about. Do you have a favorite legend or myth you’d like to share?
AO: The “This Man” Theory — the person who comes out in your dreams.
KU: The legend that Elvis Presley is still alive.
GS: About Iris’ friends — especially Ota — he seems a little bit eccentric, let’s say…is there any way we can help him not get hurt? I’m very worried for him.
KU: Ota is an otaku, but he’s an otaku who likes human interaction and to socialize. Please keep talking to him and guide him if he starts approaching the wrong path.
GS: Finally, do you have any treasured memories from working on A.I. The Somnium Files?
KU: It’s not a memory, but the part that Mr. Okada was involved in — there were a couple of twists and turns that came out very good.
GS: So Mr. Okada thought up the big twist this time? That’s amazing.
AO: Mr. Uchikoshi — thank you for telling me that, I’m very happy about what you just said. I will remember how I was really worried about my scenarios matching Mr. Uchikoshi’s scenarios. I just did a play-through [of the game] and it looks good. I was very happy to see that.
GS: I really look forward to seeing the story come together. I’m very excited. Thank you very much for your time — I can’t wait to see the finished game!
Since the end of the interview, a lot has happened to move the universe of A.I. along. Mr. Uchikoshi relayed the message about the “Okiura Fishery Cold Storage Warehouse” to Ota, who immediately went to the site in the Harbor View District and found it empty, and then promptly disappeared from the internet. Iris uploaded another video that is pretty graphic — I wouldn’t recommend watching it if blood, (the implication of) sawing somebody in half, or eye trauma bothers you. It’s hard to say what this is all leading up to, but I have faith that Mr. Uchikoshi and Mr. Okada have come up with a great story. I can’t wait to explore the world of A.I. The Somnium Files alongside Ota, Mizuki, Iris, and the other characters they’ve crafted for us.
Thank you again to Mr. Uchikoshi, Mr. Okada, and Spike Chunsoft themselves for giving me this opportunity!
If you want to pre-order A.I. The Somnium Files you can find for pre-order at your local retailer.