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The People Making Sega’s Future

[The following is a translation of an interview printed in the January 1993 issue of the Japanese magazine Beep! Mega Drive. As far as I know, it is the first interview in which Sega allowed its developers to be named and pictured.]

Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto is well-known for creating games such as Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda, but now Sega has its own rich catalog of hit titles. We met with the developers behind some of these hit Sega titles last October. The time has come for them to share their passionate thoughts. Feel the power of Sega’s hidden strength!

Nurturing the Things You’ve Created

Beep: When I look over the games you’ve all created, the list is just full of truly incredible titles. What’s more, you’re all quite young, too.

Suzuki: Really? I’m one of Sega’s “young old people.” Naito is really young, though. He must be 10 or even 12 years younger than me (laughs).

AM2 Assistant Director Yu Suzuki
Born June 10, 1958. Has led development after entering Sega in 1983 on a series of hit titles such as Hang On, Space Harrier, Outrun, Afterburner, R-360, and Virtua Racing. He is one of the central pillars of Sega. [The overlaid text reads “The Arcade Great”.]

Beep: (laughs). By the way, Naito and Naka, you’re both just winding down development on your new titles. Let me ask Naka first. How did things go with the development of Sonic 2?

Naka: Well, since it was my first time developing a game in the U.S., there were quite a few difficulties.

Beep: What were some of the merits of developing a game in the U.S.? What kinds of things did you learn?

Naka: It’s certainly great to be able to see the reactions of the children directly, and the environment in the U.S. is completely different. Since Sonic is so popular in the U.S., it was nice that I could see up-close how people respond to it. It’s difficult to see that kind of response in Japan…

STI Vice President Yuji Naka
Born September 17, 1965. Entered Sega in 1984. Representative titles include Fist of the North Star and Phantasy Star on the Master System, Phantasy Star II, Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, and Sonic 2 on the Mega Drive. He is one of Sega’s console hit makers. [The overlaid text reads “The Symbol of Sega”.]

Beep: When did development begin?

Naka: It was around November of last year. At that time, it was just me and one other programmer. Then we added a third person, and after that we gradually increased the team size. However, like always, I feel like I’ve left something out of the game. There’s still so much I want to add. For Sonic 2, we had to remove so much due to memory limitations. We actually made about five more zones, but in the end, we had to cut them all. We actually cut one zone at the absolute very last minute. Even though it was basically complete, we couldn’t use it because of a lack of memory. There just wasn’t enough space.

Beep: Tails makes his debut appearance. So, he is a boy, right?

Naka: Right. He’s intended to be a boy.

Beep: At first, there was some talk like, “Is Tails a girl?” and “Is Tails Sonic’s girlfriend?” and such.

Naka: No, that was all just wild rumor. He was a boy from the very beginning. In fact, Tails’ name was actually Miles for most of the time. The nickname Tails came up during a meeting with a producer from ABC.

Beep: The special stage in Sonic 2 looks quite interesting. It’s 3D-style.

Naka: You can see Sonic from behind. The spiny look is cool, right (laughs)? That’s the kind of thing I was hoping to add. We were also thinking of having more cliffs and valleys, but unfortunately there was no way we could add those. We did all we could.

Beep: Did you have the idea for the special stage from the beginning?

Naka: Yes. When I started development, I started with the thought, “Shall we try to implement that?” As development progressed, I decided to go with it even though the image quality got a bit rough.

Beep: There are also new things such as the spin dash. Was that based on your thoughts from the first Sonic?

Naka: It came about when we were reflecting on opinions of the first game. We were actually planning on including one other such ability. We also talked about using the B and Up buttons, but that was never realized.

Beep: To go back to the discussion of Tails, there aren’t any women in Sonic games. What about including a heroine?

Naka: There’s a woman in the original source material. We created a woman named Madonna, and the original plan was to have Sonic rescue her. However, that kind of silly direction didn’t really fit Sonic. We wanted to go with something more orthodox. Of course, there certainly are a lot of games like that in the world, where the hero has to rescue the princess. We wanted to do something different from Mario, though, and aim for a new direction.

Beep: Do you have any plans to introduce a heroine in later Sonic titles?

Naka: Not right now. If we do, I’d like to expand the world of Sonic a bit more.

Beep: What are your impressions of the upcoming Sonic CD on the Sega CD and Sega Falcom’s Sister Sonic?

Naka: I don’t really have any (laughs).

Beep: You’re not involved with Sonic CD at all?

Naka: That’s right. Not at all. However, the staff include the main designer from Sonic 1 and some other great developers, so I’m sure it will be good. Actually, nearly all of the staff from Sonic 1 worked on Sonic 2.

Beep: Do you have any announcements about a Sonic 3?

Naka: Not at all.

Beep: Are you personally interested in doing it?

Naka: I certainly feel that if someone else is going to do it, I’d rather do it myself. There is also that whole situation with Phantasy Star… By the way, Naito, what do you think of [Dragon Quest] V?

Naito: [Dragon Quest] V (laughs)?

Climax President Kan Naito
Born March 23, 1967. Founded Climax after working as the chief programmer on Dragon Quest III and IV. Created Shining in the Darkness and Landstalker on the Mega Drive. He has earned the nickname ‘genius’ and is one of the Mega Drive’s stars. [The overlaid text reads “The Man Called Genius”.]

Naka: I’ve only completed up to the first monster area….

Naito: I haven’t played it to the end yet, although I did watch someone else play most of it.

Beep: How was it?

Naito: I thought it was interesting.

Naka: It’s definitely interesting as long as you don’t think of it as an SNES game (laughs). That kind of thing happens a lot. Someone takes the thing you made and does something weird with it…

Suzuki: That’s OK as long as they improve it. With arcade game ports, it can turn out well if you go back to the planning stage and design a remake, but if you just try to port it as-is, it won’t be any good.

Naka: But, there’s this urge to just port it as-is. Even if it’s impossible, you want to bring it to the home console (laughs).

Suzuki: That’s no good (laughs).


I Don’t Play Games

Suzuki: Even for taikan games, I start with some concept and try to build the game around it. Depending on the time, I’m also constantly thinking of new cabinet designs and such. Well, I say ‘constantly,’ but the reality is that I’m never thinking of that stuff (laughs).

Naka: Oh yeah? I thought you’re the type who’s full of ideas. Like, just overflowing with ideas.

Suzuki: No, no, no. I’m always doing unrelated stuff. I tend to wander a lot and play with things (laughs).

Beep: Do you yourself play video games?

Suzuki: No, I don’t. That always disappoints people (laughs). For example, we had a new employee join us, and he had spent something like ¥200,000 on Outrun. He came up to me all nervous and said, “Mr.- Mr. Suzuki? Wh- what kind of games do you like?” So, I replied, “Sorry, I don’t really play games,” and he was like, “O- Oh…” (laughs). But yeah, I don’t play many games. I like to make them. I’m so busy with the things I’m working on.


Sega is a Great Company

Beep: By the way, things have gotten quite competitive with Nintendo in the current game industry. On a personal level, how do you feel about Sega’s enthusiasm?

Naka: Let me think… Well, Sega is a great company. It tries lots of new things and it isn’t doing anything dishonest. It’s trying its hardest in a fair way, and it’s been like that for a very long time.

Suzuki: It’s a very honest, straightforward company.

Beep: When you’re developing for home consoles, are you conscious of Nintendo?

Naka: You mean Nintendo’s games? There was definitely a sense of “defeat Mario.” We were aiming for a character like Mario—even though it’s different from Mario—to become Sega’s character.

Beep: Up to now, you’ve only worked on cartridge games, but do you have any thoughts about CD-based games?

Naka: I’m interested, but most CD games just use all of their space for animation. For whatever reason, I really hate that. Won’t it be OK without putting all that animation in?

Beep: Naito, what do you think?

Naito: As for me now, I’m of the same opinion—there’s no necessity for CDs at the moment.

Naka: But Rise of the Dragon is great. It does use a lot of memory for voices, but it’s great how it feels like you yourself can enter the game world.

Naito: This time around, I tried creating a new gameplay system, but it’s difficult to decide where to go from here. From the perspective of users, they’re looking forward to playing a possible sequel, but on the other hand, I have the option of creating something new. Well, anyway, setting aside whether or not the game’s interesting, we’ve managed to develop something this time that fits really well with its worldview and such.

Beep: To end, I’d like to ask everyone about their upcoming plans or hopes.

Naito: For now, I don’t have any plans to make a simple sequel. My next title is still undecided, but that the moment I’m considering how to better expose us game creators to the world. I want to bring more recognition to those of us working in the game industry from normal people. I really think we should be putting game creators to the front from now on.

Naka: It’s true that until now, Sega had a company policy of only allowing pennames for crediting developers, but that’s changing. I was able to show my name for the first time with Sonic 2. I think it would be positive to be able to promote a game along the lines of, “Oh, this game was made by Yuji Naka!” That will also bring a sense of responsibility to us. Additionally, I personally am thinking that I might want to start working on arcade games due to my deep respect for Mr. Suzuki (laughs).

Suzuki: Well, I think one of the most important things is to always create something new. The arcade market is said to be a ¥300 billion industry. It definitely has a lot of potential, so it’s a waste for each company to always be feeding off of the same thing. If you can always work on creating something new that has no rivals, you can create a new market. That kind of pioneering spirit can only be found at Namco or Sega now. These companies really have to do their best. In the arcades, the 2D era lasted until 1990, but from now the 3D era is beginning, and Virtua Racing is an example of that. Sega is in the middle of entering a new era.

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