Yuji Naka interview by CVG (May 27, 2003)
From Sonic Retro
Yuji Naka: Actually, the Adventure series was completed with Adventure 2. So Sonic Heroes is a brand new game; storywise there is some continuity, but this is a brand new style and game.
CVG: The three characters that you control simultaneously - in the first level of the game we've seen there at the show, it's not that easy to see how this idea of gameplay will be utilised. Can you tell us how the game will work?
Yuji Naka: You can change the formation to what you'd like, so you can make different formations with the three characters and depending on that formation you can do different things, go to different places.
You can choose your function; you can fly, you can fight, you can be more empowered; so the gameplay is really something you can choose yourself. With different combinations of the three characters you can even find hidden places to go.
CVG: Do you get any special rewards in the game?
Yuji Naka: As for the reward system, it's quite similar to previous Sonic games. In this game we tried to provide more variety in the gameplay so we find that by providing a team action the player can discover more styles of play in the game.
CVG: What's your day to day role at Sega?
Yuji Naka: I am one of the directors, so I am somewhat involved with all the games released by Sega, and on top of that, I'm the President of development team SONIC TEAM. So while I'm directly involved with all the games created within SONIC TEAM, I give basic direction in creating and producing the games.
CVG: What do you think of the way the Sonic games have evolved; was it a problem when one of your team members left to work with Sony?
Yuji Naka: Yeah, one of the guys from our team went to work on Jak and Daxter! As for the original titles, I was involved from the beginning, the creation of the game. The character was born in a kind of stream of creating, so I'm involved from the very beginning of the character. I gave the game direction, and I was the main programmer also.
So I was involved with every aspect of the original Sonics. Some of the details, like making a map, quite straight-forward stuff, was done by the guy who's working on Jak and Daxter right now. He was involved until Sonic 3, and after that for eight years he didn't do anything in Sega, so he was quite useless in Sega. We really didn't need him. He was really doing nothing with Sonic.
CVG: Do you miss the creativity of development now you're overseeing the project?
Yuji Naka: Yes, I miss that very much. When Sega's a little more revitalised I would like to work more on that side of things - in order to realise that I'm working really hard.
CVG: How would you like to see Sega develop?
Yuji Naka: In order to last for a long time you have to have a very good fanbase. You have to satisfy the user and the user has to be happy with the game, so the many times the press or whoever asks me if I want to make consecutive series of games, I can tell only after a game has sold well.
If the fans like the game, then I can keep going. The only reason is because our users like Sonic; they feel very well disposed towards him.
CVG: Why did you decide to release Billy Hatcher only on GameCube?
Yuji Naka: The reason is because the user of the GameCube is very close and appropriate to the audience of our action game.
CVG: Sega has a rich heritage, a huge back catalogue of games - how does Sega plan to exploit this catalogue?
CVG: What's your favourite game?
Yuji Naka: I don't really have any specific title, but I like racing games. Basically I like cars and racing to such an extent that I participate myself in real life.
Since I started, my in-game racing time is vastly reduced. My car is a 360 Spyder, and I was in a Suzuka race, and I also have a Lotus 1. I've been racing for three years - if I could make a game based on my experience that would be really nice.
CVG: How did you come up with the idea for Billy Hatcher?
Yuji Naka: Initially we were trying to make a four-player fighting game. Conventionally they use only the shooting and the punching for a fighting game, but I wanted to make some unique object, so we were thinking about a ball, and on top of that we wanted to solidify a story which could be used for the single-player game, too.
So over the course of the evolution of the title we came up with the egg idea, which I thought would be very interesting.
CVG: How much involvement did you have in the development of the game itself?
Yuji Naka: Overall, 60 to 70 percent of Billy Hatcher has been completed. You can use the creatures that hatch from the eggs to clear objectives, or else you can just use the egg itself to clear hurdles. Quite a lot of the puzzle sections have been completed.
CVG: Lots of gamers would like to see a sequel to NiGHTS - any chance of this happening?
Yuji Naka: Our team has about 100 team members, and from that resource we have to make the Sonics and the Phantasy Star Onlines and on top of that we have to work on the brand new titles. We get a lot of requests for titles like Burning Rangers but we just don't have the resources.
CVG: What do you think of the trend towards bringing out sequels rather than original games?
Yuji Naka: When I look at the E3 floor I can see so many sequels, and I feel very sad I didn't see many original titles this year. When you look at the games, and the new styles, I think ours were the best.
CVG: What do you think of the potential of the PSP?
Yuji Naka: I am very interested in the portable stuff. As for the media, they're using the optical discs, so in terms of cost and lead-time it's going to be very interesting and exciting.
CVG: What are your thoughts on Nokia's N-Gage?
Yuji Naka: It was really exciting in the beginning, but the release time has been delayed - they told us they were going to start selling in the Spring; the unit was completed a long time ago but they haven't started to sell it yet; kinda disappointing.
CVG: Do you think the high price of the machine will impede its success?
Yuji Naka: Actually, compared to what I expected it's much cheaper. I admire Nokia, they did a really good job on the price.
CVG: Are you still as passionate about games as you ever were?
Yuji Naka: Right now I don't really have time to play other people's games as I have just enough time to play my games. If I have just a little free time I play really easy games where you don't have to invest so much time, such as the Made in Wario [Wario Ware in the West] game.
That kind of a game, if it's portable, is even more suitable to me. Currently in Japan for Docomo we are making about 30 games using Java. And every month we update the game, so a game on your cellphone can be enjoyed really easily - if we can do this overseas that would be really great.
CVG: Do you have any other surprises in Billy Hatcher?
Yuji Naka: Actually the Billy Hatcher game is a totally different game from other games because the user has to move with an egg all the time, so this is a totally different style, and also this is four-player, it has a totally different angle from other action games. So I think that part is very interesting for users.
CVG: What do you think about making more platform-specific titles?
Yuji Naka: Thinking about being exclusive, it's not really so desirable, I would like to make console games more general. I think that's more desirable. As a creator our goal is to find the largest audience, and if they don't have the right hardware it's very sad.
- Original Interview at Angel Island Interviews.