Famitsu held an interview with the Sonic Team’s Yuji Naka this week, relating to Sega’s recent announcements:
FamitsuDC: What are your thoughts on the cancellation of the Dreamcast?
Naka-san: The magazine companies gave us total support right until the end, but even that wasn’t enough the save the system. I was deeply moved when the announcement was made. I joined Sega more than 17 years ago, and I’ve been involved with the consumer side the whole time. I was extremely disappointed when I heard we were pulling out of the hardware business. Everyone knew this day would come, but we tried our hardest to avoid it. Back in January when we announced plans to go ‘multi-platform,’ we still didn’t want to cancel the Dreamcast. We have to change with the times though. I believe in the 21st century, what platform you support will become irrelevant.
FamitsuDC: Sonic Team has been the first Sega subsidiary to embrace other platforms, some players feel as if you bailed on them and the Dreamcast. What would you say to them?
Naka-san: We had been planning to work on the GameBoy Advance since summer 2000. Initially, we were wondering if Sega was planning their own new handheld, GameGear 2. As it turned out, there were no such plans. Therefore, we figured working as a third party on Nintendo’s handheld wouldn’t pose a threat to the Dreamcast. The GameBoy Advance was on its way, and we wanted to develop for it.
FamitsuDC: Several other Sega subsidiaries have expressed interest in developing for the GameBoy Advance as well. Most still have reservations, why did you decide to support for it?
Naka-san: It was more of a personal preference. We love being the first out of the gate, and we love working on new technology. So we wanted to have something ready for the GameBoy Advance launch. We also wanted the opportunity to work on Nintendo’s hardware. We’ve learned a lot working on it over the past few months. Since their target audience is much lower than the Dreamcast, we thought it was suitable.
FamitsuDC: What other reasons facilitated your decision to develop for the GameBoy Advance?
Naka-san: One of the biggest factors was that we were allowed to sit-in on the product announcement session. We were very impressed by the ability to linkup four players with only use 1 cartridge. After the session, we approached Nintendo. We expressed interest in creating a launch title for the GameBoy Advance, and by October 2000, we already had development kits. Originally, we planned to announce Sonic Team’s support of the GBA in November. This was long before any talk of the Dreamcast cancellation. We decided to wait until we had something tangible to announce our development plans. As it happened coincidentally, our announcement fell on the same day as Sega’s plans to announce the cancellation of Dreamcast. While it may look like we contributed to its demise, we really just wanted to work on the GameBoy Advance.
FamitsuDC: So at the moment, all your titles new titles will be for GameBoy Advance or Dreamcast?
Naka-san: To be honest, we haven’t decided. We want to try a number of things. With the industry constantly changing, we realize we have to keep up. At the moment, the gaming industry is in a recession, and many people believe devices like cellphones are hurting the console business. That’s true to some extent, but it’s mostly because games haven’t changed since the Famicom days. We want to try completely new things, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to neglect the Dreamcast.
FamitsuDC: That’s true, it seems like the basics in console gaming haven’t changed, right?
Naka-san: After the Saturn, when development on the Dreamcast began, Sonic Team made many suggestions. For example, adding a microphone and camera. We had game concepts that would include these devices. We also thought about the ability of saving a record of a players history. To date, Seaman is the only game which uses that. The idea is to save a record of someone’s playing style. Then, when they log onto a network, an analysis of that information would be done, and the game would change accordingly. We thought it was revolutionary, but we were unable to use it ourselves. It would have raised too many privacy issues, especially in America. It’s too bad, I still think it’s a great idea. Anyway, I still plan to encourage management to develop new hardware, even though I know they’ll say no. Only companies that create their own hardware have total freedom.
FamitsuDC: What’s the status of the titles you’re working on now?
Naka-san: Sonic Adventure 2 is coming along well for the Dreamcast. As of June 23rd, Sonic will turn 10, and we’re planning something special around that. Sonic for the GameBoy Advance is progressing well too. Development has been ongoing for a while, and I think we’re going to release new details about it soon. We’re also releasing Puyo Puyo, though we’re not working on it directly. I want to work on other projects too, but mainly I want to focus on Phantasy Star Online. We might do another expansion disc or perhaps a full sequel. We were surprised how much time people spend playing it, some have logged in over 100-200 hours. That’s enough time to beat the game 2-4 times, and they still love playing it.
FamitsuDC: What about porting Phantasy Star Online to other consoles, and making one network that everyone can play on?
Naka-san: That would be ideal, but it would also be very difficult. There would be tremendous technical obstacles to overcome. In any event, all our time is being spent on Sonic Adventure 2 and Phantasy Star Online Version 2 right now. Personally, I want to try programming again. I did some debugging work on Chu Chu Rocket for the GameBoy Advance, and it really got me in the mood. Of course I don’t have time to do anything major, but perhaps I can create a few small iMode games under 10k.
FamitsuDC: What new things do you want to try?
Naka-san: With the Dreamcast cancellation, I’ll have more free time to work on new projects. Ever since the television, there has been little innovation. It’s time for something fundamentally different. We’re in the 21st century, but it’s not the 21st century we envisioned. We’re not flying to work in our cars. I think cars and planes were created in the first place because people thought they were fun. So, I think it can be said that ‘entertainment is the mother of invention.’
FamitsuDC: So when can we expect Sonic Team automobiles and planes?
Naka-san: Hypothetically speaking, someday I hope. I’d like to be involved in the development of flying cars, I don’t know what Sega feels about things like that, but it’s important to work on projects for the future. Thirty years ago popular sci-fi creator Tezuka Osamu give us insight on the future. He gave us our hopes and dreams, and that’s an irreplaceable gift.
FamitsuDC: In today’s media, we rarely see the kinds of futuristic images that were so popular in the past. Why do you think that is?
Naka-san: As game developers, we have the responsibility to inspire the younger generation. For that reason, I’m glad we were able to release Phantasy Star Online. I think it showed a completely new vision for the future. Even if we can’t create the future all at once, we can build it upon things today. When Sonic Team split from Sega, I said our goal was to build ‘Sonic Land’ one day. We still want to do that, and creating projects geared towards the future. I believe the discontinuation of the Dreamcast was Sega’s way of saying, ‘Now more than ever, do something New!’