Saturday, March 26, 2022

Interview with Yu Suzuki: Arcade1Up OutRun | 4Gamer Mar 2022

The following is a translation of an interview held with Yu Suzuki to commemorate the release of the OutRun sit-down cabinet by Arcade1Up. Topics included the original development of OutRun, his plans for the future, and the kinds of games he would like to create. Towards the end of the interview, he also talks about the possibility of Shenmue 4.

Arcade1Up's OutRun cabinet contains Sega's driving games, including the 1986 arcade game OutRun. The cabinet's second production run has been on sale in Japan from the domestic distributor, Shine, since February 18, 2022. The tax-inclusive price is 96,800 yen [approx. USD$815].

The driver sits in the seat provided, grips the steering wheel and shift lever, and presses the foot pedal to accelerate. This is a cabinet game machine for the home on which you can experience the feeling of playing OutRun, Turbo OutRun, OutRunners and Power Drift just like back in the day*.

*Rad Rally can be added by updating the firmware.

4Gamer had the opportunity to interview Mr. Yu Suzuki, who worked on numerous ride-on style games while at Sega, and who has started a huge movement in the arcade game industry. The legendary creator told us about anecdotes from his development days, his current situation, and his goals for the future.

About Yu Suzuki

Yu Suzuki was born in Iwate Prefecture in 1958, and is the president of YS Net. He joined Sega in 1983 and has worked on ride-on games such as Hang On, Space Harrier and OutRun as well as the industry's first 3D fighting game, Virtua Fighter. In the 1990s, he began development of the Dreamcast title Shenmue. Twenty years after the appearance of the first title, in 2019, the latest entry in the series, Shenmue III, was released.

A Custom-built Ferrari in Monaco

4Gamer: Hello, and thank you for meeting with us. Just before we started this interview, you were playing the Arcade1Up OutRun; how long has it been since you played OutRun?

Yu Suzuki: To be honest, I don't remember exactly (laughs). I guess I haven't played it in the last 20 years or so.

4Gamer: It has been more than 30 years since its creation, and it is still loved by fans around the world.

Yu Suzuki: That makes me very happy. When I participated in a European event to promote Shenmue III, there was a guy at the booth next to mine making a driving game, and he told me that OutRun was his inspiration for making his game.

4Gamer: So there is a generation of developers coming up who grew up on OutRun! You have ported the game to home consoles many times, but what are your impressions of the home cabinet version?

Yu Suzuki: The cabinet is small and cute. It is quite different in size from the arcade cabinet, so you have to sit a bit compactly, but it looks cute when you are playing (laughs). It's amusing to adjust your driving to the size of the cabinet, in the manner of someone really tall wanting to try driving a Mini Cooper.

4Gamer: How is the feel of the steering wheel?

Yu Suzuki: It brought back a lot of memories from the time: "Ah yes, this is how OutRun was". I thought to myself that I knew the best way to drive through a certain part but then I crashed, so maybe I mis-remembered - or else my skills have deteriorated (laughs).

4Gamer: The original OutRun was by no means an easy game. Some stages had a very tight course, and there were many other cars on the road.

Yu Suzuki: We were aiming for 200 plays per day for arcade games at the time, and since a day's operating time is actually 10 hours, we had to have a game turnover of 3 minutes. Taking into account the time it takes to get into and out of the cabinet, the average time was 2 minutes and 40 seconds. That was the standard we worked to when we created it

If we could shorten the time per game even further and at the same time increase the player's satisfaction, even more revenue would be generated. Virtua Fighter, which came later, was one such example.

4Gamer: In 1985, Hang On was released as the first ride-on game, followed by OutRun the next year. Did things follow a natural progression from "2-wheeled games" to "4-wheeled games"?

Yu Suzuki: Yes, the games all had a lot of elements in common, such as racing to a checkpoint within a time limit while avoiding opponent cars, with the courses not having a great deal of ups and downs. I myself had always ridden a motorcycle, so I prefer them to cars. I remember saying at the time, "Cars can't change direction after a jump, so I like motorbikes better" (laughs).

4Gamer: In OutRun, you control a car that is modeled on the Ferrari Testarossa. How did you reach that decision?

Yu Suzuki: Up until then, most driving games had cars explode when they came into contact with each other. For OutRun, I wanted to create a game where recovery is possible even if the cars collide. I wanted to portray it in a more tolerant, less serious manner.

My inspiration for OutRun was the movie Cannonball. In making the game, we planned to actually drive the same course across the United States as in the movie, but it turned out that most of the route was in the desert (laughs).

So I changed our research location to Europe, and we drove through Germany, Switzerland, and Italy. When we stopped at a public casino in Monaco, we saw a bright red Ferrari parked there, a Testarossa, which was the talk of the town at the time. Not only that, but it was a convertible.

4Gamer: Just like in the game!

Yu Suzuki: At that time, I don't think a convertible Testarossa existed yet. It was either custom-ordered or modified by the owner. When I saw it, I thought it was really cool.

I didn't want to make the kind of game where you have to fully master fine techniques and work seriously in order to improve your times, so I thought, "This is the only way to go!" Driving with one hand on the wheel, a beautiful blonde beside you, and the best car that's the envy of everyone: the Testarossa convertible was exactly what I had been imagining.

4Gamer: A perfect setting! The European flavor could also be felt in the background of the course.

Yu Suzuki: I think the first course was inspired by the Côte d'Azur area on the Mediterranean coast. The courses modeled after Germany or the Swiss Alps are also pretty nice.

4Gamer: Were the windmills inspired by the Netherlands?

Yes Suzuki: No, we didn't go to Holland. But I thought it would be better to have windmills, so I added them (laughs). We needed a lot of courses in order to keep players interested, and we didn't have enough from just the locations we visited.

4Gamer: There is an anecdote from your location visits in which you drove on the German autobahn at 200 km/h, isn't there.

Yu Suzuki: It would have been ideal if we could have rented a Ferrari, but we didn't know how. We managed to rent a Porsche, but it wouldn't fit the luggage of Mr. Ishii [project manager Yoji Ishii] and I because it was a two-seater with the engine in the back (laughs).

In the end, we rented a BMW 520 and were able to take pictures with the camera from out of the sunroof. With my foot to the floor, 200 km/h was about as fast as it could go. Despite that, a Mercedes Benz zoomed right past us. We looked at the driver's seat and saw it was a petite old lady, so Mr. Ishii and I were both stunned (laughs).

4Gamer: Even though the road had no speed limit, was she really that fast!

Mr. Suzuki: Ridiculously fast! When I drove a BMW in Japan, something felt a bit off with its braking. But when I drove on the Autobahn at 200 km/h and applied the brakes, I was able to decelerate with a reassuring sense of safety, and I was able to get a real sense of the speed. The BMWs of today don't give me that uncomfortable feeling anymore, though, as they've researched Japan's traffic conditions. I sound a bit like an automobile critic! (laughs)

4Gamer: Your fondness for cars and motorcycles was also discussed when you appeared on the "X Years Later" TV program. On that program, you mentioned considering installing an actual engine into the Hang On cabinet in order to create a realistic sound. Was there anything like that with OutRun?

Yu Suzuki: We tried a lot of different ideas, but Sega has an excellent Mechatronics unit. For OutRun, the Mechatronics section came to me with a plan for a driving game cabinet, and I adapted my own plans to it. The motif of the cabinet was the Testarossa, so I incorporated that concept. In order to express the unique style of the car with its short rear, I asked them to put tires at the back of the cabinet and attach molded fins on the side.

4Gamer: Ah, so that it matched the car in the game.

Yu Suzuki: I don't recall clearly, but I think I wanted to use a real-life steering wheel. I wanted to use a MOMO steering wheel, which is used on sports cars and racing cars, in the cabinet, but I was told that would be too expensive. Using it as reference, I made one that was as close as possible in size and feel to the real thing.

MOMO steering wheel

We had to adjust the pedals and screen position to accommodate the different physiques of the people riding on the cabinet, and I also spent a lot of time thinking with the Mechatronics team about how to convert the single axis movement of the motor to a three-dimensional form.

8-Beat Music at a 150 Tempo Would Work Well For a Driving Game

4Gamer: When talking about OutRun, it's a game that has very impressive sound.

Yu Suzuki: In Hang On, we had a solid tune as background music, but for OutRun, being a driving game, I wanted to have feel-good music.

The way I was thinking at the time, was that 8-beat songs with a tempo of around 150 would be perfect for a driving game and make you want to step on the gas pedal. The same goes for Van Halen's "Panama", and the background music during the car chase in [Japan television police drama series] Seibu Keisatsu (laughs). We went with 16 beats and a tempo of around 150 and created stylish fusion-type music to fit with these kinds of concepts and the game's content.

4Gamer: Being able to select from three main BGM tracks, depending on one's mood and preference, was also groundbreaking.

Yu Suzuki: It's a racing game, after all. That reminds me, "Passing Breeze" was originally titled "Passing Wind," to capture the meaning of wind rushing past. But when I heard that it meant "fart" in English, I hastily changed the title. I'm glad Sega of America checked it out (laughs).

4Gamer: That was a close call (laughs).

Yu Suzuki: OutRun's circuit board was equipped with a state-of-the-art sound chip, so the FM sound system was enhanced to play more sounds simultaneously. It was a step up from Hang On of the previous year. We did not have enough memory capacity to create a large amount of data from PCM sound sources, so we reduced it by using FM sound sources, a method unique to that time. We also provided boxes for the speakers so that the sound would reverberate.

4Gamer: Did you have overseas distribution in mind from the time of development?

Yu Suzuki: From the start, I was conscious of doing things like using colors that would also go down well overseas, in anticipation of distribution worldwide. Games for the [Japanese] domestic market often use an intermediate color range, but for a setting of California or the Côte d'Azur, bright, bold colors are more appropriate. I used as wide a dynamic range as possible and applied rich colors.

4Gamer: Indeed, many of your works have bright images. The clear blue sky in Jacky's stage of Virtua Fighter makes a strong impression.

Yu Suzuki: In addition to the use of color, we were also aiming to make it something that is easy to grasp. If a game takes a long time to explain, revenue will go down, and it is also expensive to localize the text.

The good thing about coin-operated games is that they can be readily played once the coins are inserted. If the game's enjoyable, you will play it again and again; and if it doesn't suit you, you will play something else. So we were always conscious of the importance of the first impression.

4Gamer: Arcade1Up's OutRun also includes Power Drift, which was released in 1988.

Yu Suzuki: Power Drift was a game that was built with a focus on network-linked technology. At the time, an application that allowed lag-free networked competitions didn't exist, so we decided all the specifications ourselves and made it possible for up to eight players to link together.

4Gamer: Power Drift was off-road racing, wasn't it.

Yu Suzuki: I used to ride my motorcycle on the forest roads around Mt Fuji, and do hill climbing, so off-road was the concept I had in mind. Actually, at the time, the game I most wanted to make was a driving game based on the Paris-Dakar Rally, but the market demand was higher for on-road games.

Although Power Drift is an off-road game, we gave it a clear identity as a race game by emphasizing the network competition.

4Gamer: Did you also want to make an off-road motorcycle game?

Yu Suzuki: Of course, I wanted to make one. I may not have the energy to make one now, though... I only ride a scooter these days (laughs).

4Gamer: How do you see the remarkable evolution of racing games in recent years?

Yu Suzuki: What they portray is amazing. The quality of the graphics on the latest game consoles is such that they could be mistaken for live-action video. When the visuals and sound reach this level of perfection, they are no longer the deciding factor, and in the end it's about how fun it is to play that matters.

Of the titles I have made, F355 Challenge is the only simulator; the others are games. I think that how  games will be rated will be based on how interesting the game itself is.

"If there is to be a next Shenmue, I want to make it appeal to a wide audience"

4Gamer: May I ask about your current projects?

Yu Suzuki: I'm still making games! I hope to have something to announce by the end of this year, so please keep an eye out.

4Gamer: That's something to look forward to! Is it about something you like?

Yu Suzuki: F355 Challenge is the only game that is a direct reflection of what I like. Most of my titles have been taken on to address particular needs or themes, rather than what I like, so I have no preference with regards to subject matter, now or in the past.

I have not been particular about genres or platforms, so once I decide what I want to make, I work hard toward that goal. That feeling has probably never changed.

4Gamer: You most recently released Shenmue III. Do you have any plans for the next one [in the series]?

Yu Suzuki: I would like to, if I get the chance. Shenmue III was made with the support of long-time fans. So 95% of the content was for them, and we really put all of our effort into making it.

Therefore, satisfaction was reasonably high among the core fanbase, but I am aware that some aspects felt tedious to those who hadn't played the old Shenmue games. Shenmue is a game in which slight inconveniences are something to enjoy, so people who are used to user-friendly modern open-world game systems may have felt confused.

If there is a next game, I would like to make it for new players as well as the core fans. I believe that the fans who have given their support until now will encourage me in trying various new things in order to welcome newcomers and create new Shenmue fans.

4Gamer: I have the impression that the fans of Shenmue are very supportive.

Yu Suzuki: I'm really thankful for them. Fans have told me, "The Shenmue I want to play is the Shenmue that Yu-san wants to make". If there is a next game, I would like to make one where people who are not familiar with Shenmue will be able to experience the Shenmue feeling without feeling stressed.

4Gamer: At the 2019 Tokyo Game Show, you gave VR as an area in which you were interested. Is that still the case today?

Yu Suzuki: I am interested in it, but what I am currently working on is in a field other than VR. The interview today has been about the Arcade1Up OutRun, something quite different from VR, but when I touch this kind of game, I realize that today's games have truly amazing realism and have become so much more complex. I don't want to blow my own trumpet, but OutRun is very easy to grasp (laughs).

In a sense, software is formless, so it's great to have a cabinet you can pick up and touch. It has been selling quite well in Japan, I'm sure?

4Gamer: The first batch sold out quickly last year.

Yu Suzuki: For those who played OutRun in the arcade back then, I would like them to sit in the seat and hold the steering wheel. I think it will bring back memories of the old days, just as it did for me. It's a lot of fun to be able to play in a cabinet whenever you like.

4Gamer: These days, there are not only large cabinets, but also a number of mini-cabinets that contain multiple games.

Yu Suzuki: Those are great, too. It's a dream come true to have dozens of games packed into a small size.

4Gamer: The Astro City Mini included games like Virtua Fighter and Space Harrier.

Yu Suzuki: I wonder if you could make those two in Arcade1Up size as well (laughs). I would especially like to create a sequel to Space Harrier. If I receive a request, I will make it right away. Please let Sega know (laughs).

4Gamer: Will do (laughs). Thank you very much for your time today.

Source: 4Gamer, 12 March 2022 [Japanese]

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