In February, SEGA legend Yuji Naka was a special guest on an informal talk show streamed live online by the Japanese site DenFamiNicoGamer.
Some of the inside stories he shared about his early days at SEGA also mentioned Yu Suzuki, who was working there at the time. In particular, one previously-unheard episode ended up with the two not speaking for a couple of years!
I have translated excerpts of the stories involving Yu Suzuki into English below.
- Yuji Naka, born 1965. Video game programmer, designer, and producer. He joined SEGA in 1983 and later headed Sonic Team as lead programmer of the original Sonic the Hedgehog series of games on the Sega Genesis. He left SEGA in 2006 to found a game company, Prope.
- Bakataal Kato (former editor-in-chief of Famitsu magazine)
- 217 (member of dance unit Cojirase The Trip).
|The panel, left to right: Bakataal Kato, cosplayer NRK the Hedgehog, Yuji Naka, 217, cosplayer Akira Konomi|
Yuji Naka, Yu Suzuki and Overtime at SEGA
Naka: When I was doing my long stint as a programmer – it was only for 13 years though – I tried to do new things with the technology. At the time I was using SEGA hardware, so I tried to do the maximum I could with it. Otherwise we wouldn’t be able to beat Nintendo, you see.
Kato: That’s like the “You're capable of more!” story that Master Hiro※ spoke about just now [excluded from this excerpt], with the demands you place on your team and the people around you. I think it's that kind of attitude.
※ Hiroshi Kawaguchi, born 1965. Worked together with Yuji Naka on their first game at SEGA, Girl's Garden. Music composer & Sound Section manager at Sega Interactive
Naka: I’m not so sure - the “more” part may be closer to meaning “work harder!” [laughs]
Back then, people like myself and Yu Suzuki were practically competing to see which one spent most time at the SEGA offices... who put in the most overtime. We were living at SEGA. [laughs]
Kato: It’s hard to imagine now, but back then everyone at Famitsu was also living at the office. [laughs]
Naka: But it wasn’t so much that we did that because we were told to. We just enjoyed creating games so much.
Kato: It’s fun, isn’t it. For us, we enjoy playing games and making books.
Naka: I enjoyed sitting at a PC and pouring my energy into creation much more than being back at home.
The Meaning of "YU2"
A pre-recorded message for Yuji Naka was played from Koji Aizawa, editor at Enterbrain, publisher of video games magazine Famitsu and others.
|Video message from Koji Aizawa to Yuji Naka|
Naka: What’s that?
Aizawa: You often write “YU2” as your alias, don’t you. Looking at it, since you’re Yuji, I wondered why the “2”. Apparently there's a theory that since there was already Yu Suzuki (of Virtua Fighter and Shenmue), it was to show you were the second and were aiming to outdoYu-san. I wondered if you had that kind of intention... What is the real meaning of YU2?
217: I’d like to know about that.
Kato: Me too.
Naka: You want to know about YU2, don’t you.
217: The truth!
Naka: As Aizawa-san mentioned, it’s because of Yu-san’s existence.
Naka: Yu-san is Yu Suzuki, and he used to write “YU”. I’m Yuji so it’s also “YU”, but since Yu-san was using that “YUJI” was suggested so I decided to make it “2”. It didn’t mean I was trying to better Yu-san, but that I’m next after him, a sign of respect. You see, I added the “2” with the feeling that there’s no way I could surpass him; I would be after him, or beneath him.
Yu Suzuki was truly a genius programmer back then, I mean he was amazing.
Kato: He’s really amazing, isn’t he.
Naka: He made games like Hang On, Space Harrier and Out Run. I love Space Harrier. Actually I got started by wanting to work on porting Space Harrier to the Mark III.
Porting Space Harrier and Out Run
Naka: The question was whether it was possible to recreate the Space Harrier screens on a Mark III. I tried all sorts of ways, but back then solely using sprites was insufficient to recreate it, so I did it by plotting the enemies on the scrolling surface. Just around the time I had managed to get that working and thinking it was looking promising, I got stumped on how to produce 3D effects on a 2D screen, and Yu-san taught me a lot about that aspect.
Also Space Harrier is designed such that as you play the game, it makes you feel skillful. That’s due to the clever program that Yu-san wrote. Even before you shoot, the enemy in front of the player is locked onto, automatically. It’s not shown in the game, but it’s locked onto. After you think you’ve aimed by yourself and pulled the trigger, your missile homes in and blows it up. It retains the fact that the player used to be in front of that enemy. He considered things like that.
By doing that, the player feels that they’re good at the game, right?
|Back of the package for the SEGA Mark III version of Space Harrier|
217: That’s true.
Naka: Yu-san put a lot of thought into that kind of thing, and told me “This is how you make a game more interesting”. He's amazing - a genius, wouldn't you agree?
217: A genius.
Naka: Take Out Run, too – like how to calculate driving on the course and out-of-course. I learned a lot through doing ports of Yu-san’s games like Space Harrier and Out Run.
Kato: You had a lot of this kind of communication with him, didn’t you.
Naka: Yes. I think he’s great, he’s someone I admire.
A Falling Out with Yu-san
Naka: But one time we had a big falling out. I don’t know if I should talk about it though. [laughs]
Kato: Even just the part you’re able to. [laughs]
Naka: At one time, Yu-san was making Shenmue※, right?
※ Shemmue: released in 1999. A Japanese computer game series developed by Sega Enterprises (now Sega Games). An adventure game of the type which sets "flags" to track progress. It has realistic action through a huge amount of motion capture, fully-voiced down to the side-characters wandering through the city, with the townscape, characters and event scenes rendered in polygons by the device. Widely acclaimed for its world with its portrayal of weather and morning and dusk transitions, and the NPCs who follow daily schedules.
[screen capture from Kickstarter Update #65]
Naka: It’s great that he was making Shenmue. It also turned out to be a home console game; with just Sonic which I was working on, it was felt that SEGA wouldn’t be competitive. So Ijimajiri-san※ spoke with Yu-san and asked him to try his hand at making a console game, and what Yu-san started working on was Shenmue.
※Shoichiro Irimajiri: born 1940. A Japanese businessman from Kochi prefecture. Served as vice-president of Honda Motor Co., Ltd, president of SEGA (now Sega Games) and president of Asahi Tec Corporation.
At the time, it was called Virtua Fighter RPG though. During that time, there weren't any Yu Suzuki-produced arcade games, right? What a great pity! I love Yu Suzuki’s arcade games.
Kato: There’s a large number of arcade fans among SEGA fans.
Naka: To be honest, I felt extremely bad for letting everyone down. It was as if I was lacking, from the perspective of the home console game division.
And then the performance of the arcade division started to decline. At that time, at a certain big meeting, I said something to him along the lines of “I wish you could pull the arcade games division back up again.” Well, that really offended him. After my unfortunate comment, he didn’t speak to me for around 18 months to two years after that...
217: That’s a long time!
|Yuji Naka at MAGIC Monaco 2015|
Various games started coming out in the arcades like DDR [Dance Dance Revolution] and Konami’s music games. Since SEGA hadn’t made one, I found myself thinking “Why don’t we make one”. And on an impulse I thought up Samba de Amigo.
Konomi: Wow, you did it!
217: It’s an absolute masterpiece!
Naka: I gave an internal presentation, and although I was in the home console games division, I felt I had given a bit back by creating an arcade game.
Kato: Great story! I had no idea such a tale was hiding.
Naka: It’s just my account of it, though.
Kato: What an awesome story.
Original article (Japanese): denfaminicogamer.jp
Translation to English by Switch at phantomriverstone.com.