Meet Hidenari, an AR designer and a Pure Entertainer, Taught by his Late Mother

People have their own ideas and perspectives, and each have their own inspirations and roots from the past. Although those episodes may appear to be random at glance, dots connect to lines and somehow link to what they do now. Different people have different roots, and do different designs, and we are here to realize that in “Diggin’ Roots”.

Here we have Hidenari Tsukamoto, an AR game designer with a passion for creating the best moments that people will remember at the end of their lives.

Hidenari Tsukamoto
Designer at Graffity Inc. Portfolio / Twitter

Hidenari started his career as an engineer. After a while he was involved in developing an analytics app as a designer. Now he works as a designer at Graffity Inc., an AR game studio in Japan. He is working on an AR shooting battle game for smartphones called “Leap Trigger”, where he is in charge of UI/UX, and art direction in general.

1. What is your philosophy behind design?

I have a very specific sense of priorities in my life. As for the work I’m involved in now, first comes entertainment, then AR, and lastly, design.

My foremost focus is on entertainment, and I just happen to be using AR to achieve that. I chose to enter the design scene because I consider my life’s work to be less about how to implement things and more about the whys and wherefores for doing so, and thinking about who our audience is and what we are trying to achieve through the work. While I enjoyed being an engineer and think about implementation, I found myself more drawn to the “whats” and “whys” so I changed careers to become a designer.

I think the most interesting form of entertainment isn’t games where you control a character, but ones where something happens to you. Instead of controlling characters to hit the blocks to get coins, I think it’s more exciting if the player gets to physically do that themselves. AR lets you enhance your everyday reality, so in that sense, it aligns well with my interests.

The reason I’m interested in creating entertainment focused on “the here and now” is because I feel it’s important to make the most of the connections we have with others that is right in front of me now, and I want users to do the same. That’s my philosophy.

2. What are your ways of boosting productivity?

I guess I play Splatoon every day.

https://www.nintendo.co.jp/switch/aab6a/index.html

I tend to find that playing one hour of a game expands my thought process more than ten hours of just thinking about it on my own would. So I have this habit of deliberately playing a certain game I choose as “the one.”

Games developed by large teams really put tons of attention into even the smallest details. Splatoon is a game where you paint ink on other players and the terrain and try to paint more areas than the opposing team. The clothes the characters wear and the details of their attack animations are so subtle. Each and every one of them is aesthetically pleasing and really gets you immersed into the game. The game really takes a player-first approach to making things look and feel good, and making you regret missing a shot when you don’t win. It just feels good to play.

Designers working on services tend to say that trying the latest services gives them more ideas. I think with games, it’s even more so the case. There are various games that come to mind when I think about what is conceptually close to my own ideals. I actively try to play those, and Splatoon is one of them.

Playing it really gives me so many new ideas. I often think back to Splatoon and remember some effect or visual they used, and think of how we could implement that into our own games. One of the games I was just recently working on was a shooting game, so Splatoon gave me a lot of inspiration.

I make sure to always put in the time to play these games because they make me more productive with my own work.

3. Who has been your greatest influence?

The person who most influenced my life was my mother.

My parents ran a Japanese restaurant together. My mother had an outgoing personality. She wasn’t the type you’d go to with serious concerns, but more of the type that would brighten the mood of the shop by keeping things light-hearted. She was all about putting a smile on customers’ faces and sending them home happy. I was very inspired by her attitude. One of the reasons I shifted into this line of work is because I’d rather make products that assure pure entertainment, not products that you’d use in case of need. I want to give users space just for their fun.

A major turning point for me was when I lost my mother, whom I loved and respected so much.

At the end of the funeral, the attendees placed flowers on her coffin. The coffin covered with flowers was gorgeous…it just visually taught me how beautiful and happy my mother’s life had been.

I cried harder than I’d ever cried before when I saw it. I realized I wanted to make more people feel positive about life, such that they, too (and myself included), could lead good lives, the kind you look back on at the end with joy, and surrounded by loved ones.

Hidenari’s mother never had a wedding ceremony, so three weeks before her passing, he gave her one. He gave a speech conveying his gratitude to her.

Seeing her coffin really gave me the desire to make more people happy. It was around this time that I developed an interest in creating entertainment myself.

The root of everything for me is creating fun. For me, the ultimate would be creating that moment people look back on at the end of their lives, something they can turn to and think, “That was so fun,” or “That moment made me fulfilled.” You might say I have a certain obsession with “making memories”.

My mother had a knack for creating those fun moments for people, and I think that mentality is something that left a deep impression on me and that I now carry with me.

4. Is there anything particular that might be the roots of your designs and ways of thinking?

I’d say real-life escape games, which has been a trend in Japan for years now. I’ve been to over 200 of them. (laughs)

People often ask me, “What do you find so fun about these?” Basically, in these games, you have to find clues and keys to open drawers, write your solution on a piece of paper, and so on, taking concrete actions to solve the puzzle. Takao Kato, CEO of Scrap Entertainment Inc., which develops these escape games, often says “We create your stories”. I’m very much in support of that idea.

When it comes to doing that digitally, it takes us to AR and VR, or the realm of so-called “spatial computing”. In VR, you sort of take on the role of an avatar, but with AR, it’s more about layering something over the real world. AR resonated better with me, which is why I started designing content for this technology.

The one I enjoyed the most recently was called “Escape from the Android Factory.” The subtitle is “If they notice you’re human, it’s over.” It combines an escape game with a live theater.

https://realdgame.jp/event/android.html

The idea is that you have to complete a special mission to infiltrate a factory manufacturing androids. But as you solve the clues, you have to act like an android the whole time, otherwise the androids will notice you are human. The characters look at you suspiciously, as though they don’t believe you’re an android. The player has to remind themselves to act like an android, so it feels really tense at times. As far as escape games go, I thought this was a masterpiece, as you really feel like you’re doing an undercover investigation. It gave me some real insights about my own work.

It was an unforgettable experience for me. Personally, one of my major focuses is on creating content that’s not about just watching, but actually thinking through a solution and doing it yourself; a “first-person experience” in the truest sense of the word.

5. What were you into as a teenager?

When I was a teenager, I was on the executive committee for a school festival held by the vocational college I attended. The time I spent on the committee was fun in and of itself, but one of the lessons I took away from it is that I wanted to entertain people.

I was a member of the web development club, so I had been coming to grips with HTML in my teens. My work on the executive committee started with coding the website, and went on to include the design, figuring I should focus on the aesthetics, too. I started with the website and pamphlets, and eventually was in charge of designing the logo for the festival, and even large stage banners.

Seeing people get excited and energized about something I had created really left a nice feeling with me. People saw the images I made and got enthusiastic to perform at the festival, or the winners on stage looked delighted with joy with my banner behind them, and so on. Seeing it all from a distance was so beautiful. Meanwhile, the maps that I made for the festival purely helped people find their way, which also made me feel satisfying in a different way.

So being involved in the design of the festival led me to realize that design is about creating something that has a net positive outcome for people. Seeing how you can enhance these precious moments and help people gave me the conviction to be involved in design for the rest of my life.

Poster designed by Hidenari. The logo has the symbol of the sun with the hope that it will be sunny.

6. Are there any services that inspired you in terms of design?

As a content creator in the XR space, I really liked Mamoru Hosoda’s Belle: The Dragon and the Freckled Princess

There is another famous movie called “Summer Wars” which is also by Hosoda, and it is often brought up by the VR community because in this movie there is an idea of a metaverse called OZ. Money and information circulate in the metaverse, and you can even carry out local government office procedures. This really captured the metaverse in a true fashion.

Similar to this, in Belle, there is a platform called <U> which took this interpretation a step further. It’s really attractive as a standalone work of art, but the way they depicted the twin personalities people have in the virtual and real world was outstanding.

A young girl has trauma and is unable to sing in real life, but she can sing beautifully within the world of <U>. Her singing voice quickly becomes a sensation, and hundreds of millions of people within <U> become fans. It’s this contrast between this charismatic singer within <U>, and this dull girl in the real world who can’t sing. This sort of duality between the digital and the real is something Hosoda is able to exquisitely depict.

The digital should, in its own way, develop and grow, and it is important. But the real world is, after all, also extremely important, and should develop in its own way. It’s not about digital “versus” the real. You’re still you, whether digital or not, and both deserve respect.

I was really touched by the way those messages were depicted. I thought it was outstanding in the subtle way it touched on these themes about what it means to live in an age when you can have these twin personalities.

・・・

Related Links

Graffity Inc. : Hidenari’s current workplace, which produces content in AR and Entertainment.

Written By

Shoko Araki

Shoko is a freelance writer & director. Experienced multiple IT companies and tech startups, and became independent from 2022. From supporting recruitment & PR for startups, to web media direction, editing and writing, she jumps into whatever that catches her interests.

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