Interview with Hirofumi Motoyama, Producer of National Geographic Panda

I’ve been a member of National Geographic for a long time. I have subscriptions to three of their magazines, have several documentaries on DVD, I’ve attended their Winter lecture series back in Minneapolis, and I’ve even reviewed Wings Over Africa when it was presented two and a half years ago.

So of course when it was revealed that Namco would be publishing National Geographic’s first ever video game, I was curious. After learning it would be an animal raising sim, I was a little less curious. Nintendogs and the various “Animalz” games held no interest for me. Why would I want to raise an animal I’d never willingly own in the first place? And why would I choose a video game instead of an actual pet.

Then the other shoe dropped. The animal in this sim…was a Panda. Panda’s are one of the most popular, exotic, and sadly rare animals on the planet. Every day their population and territory shrinks thanks to deforestation, human encroachment and other acts of stupidity. The game also promised to make users aware of the plight of the panda through national Geographic articles and video footage. Even better! So I decided to sit down and pick the mind of the game’s producer, Hirofumi Motoyama.

DHGF: What was the impetus for creating a game with the National Geographic brand and license?

HM: We were already making a panda game when National Geographic approached us to discuss opportunities that would expand their presence within the videogame industry. Our entertainment experience and National Geographic’s educational expertise seemed to be a perfect fit so we decided to do a strategic collaboration.

DHGF: The panda (although not actually a bear) is one of those animals that seems to universally captivate humanity. How does the game capture the personality and movements of this species? Was it hard to design an A.I. that mimicked Pandas?

HM: Designing the A.I. was challenging as the Panda is an easygoing animal but we feel the cute little panda’s movements and personalities are reproduced very well in the game. It will definitely put a smile on player’s faces and captivate people in that sense.

DHGF: The game revolves around raising and playing with a panda cub. How does the game differentiate itself from a range of other animal/creature raising sims like Nintendogs or Hey You Pikachu?

HM: What differentiates National Geographic Panda from these titles is that it’s not just about teaching a pet tricks. The panda may try to do different things, but when they can’t do it on their own, the player can step in and help. Then, the panda may be able to reenact the activity on their own. It’s a more delicate and heartwarming communication game.

DHGF: From screenshots that we’ve seen, National Geographic panda appears to take place in a wildlife refuge or zoo rather than the Panda’s natural habitat in China. What was the reasoning behind this?

HM: We wanted to offer players a variety of locations to choose from.

DHGF: What made you choose to develop National Geographic Panda solely for the DS?

HM: The DS’ touch screen was a big factor in our decision as it allows people to directly interact with the pandas using the stylus.

DHFG: Why the focus just on Panda cubs rather than adult pandas?

HM: Like real-world pandas, the cubs are really playful and aggressive, whereas the adults are really relaxed and easygoing.

DHGF: Obviously as this is a title bearing the National Geographic logo and name, there will be just as much an emphasis on education as entertainment. What are some of the ways players will be able to learn about real life pandas from this game?

HM: As you play the game you’ll be able to enjoy actual National Geographic pictures and articles.

DHGF: Pandas are an endangered species with only about two to three thousand currently surviving in the wild. Do you think National Geographic Panda will be able to make people more aware of the plight facing these animals in the wild?

HM: I’m hoping it will. We are really worried about their plight and we hope that this game would draw people’s attention and increase awareness.

DHGF: What about National Geographic Panda do you think will make it appeal to a wide range of gamers, regardless of age, gender, or genre preference?

HM: Simply put, it’s because the game is it is easy to pick up and play.

DHGF: Finally, will National Geographic Panda feature the classic National Geographic theme song?

HM: No, the National Geographic theme song will not be present in the game.

I have to admit, I was actually really disappointed to hear the classic National Geographic theme song in NOT in the game. We also didn’t gleam a lot of information about the game in this conversation, which disappointed me as well. Hopefully the closer we get to the game, the more we’ll learn about the specific articles included with the game, the interface system, and what all the game will entail. Until then, this will have to suffice. Either that or insert your own Tekken “Panda wins!” jokes here while singing the “Petey The Sexual harassment Panda” song.

Who lives in the east ‘neath the willow tree
Sexual Harassment Panda!
Who explains sexual harassment to you and me
Sexual Harassment Panda!
Don’t say that don’t touch there
Don’t be nasty says the silly bear
He’s come to tell you what’s right and wrong
Sexual Harassment Panda!

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