Yuji Naka interview by IGN (February 1, 2001)
From Sonic Retro
IGN: Congratulations on PSO. It's a great achievement in video game console history and as demonstrated by the hundreds of players online yesterday, we believe it's going to do great in the US. Even as excellent a game PSO is, was there anything like extra features or additional class types that didn't make the final cut for PSO?
Yuji Naka: Well, there was a lot of stuff. It was a game that was supposed to originally ship last March, and it ended up shipping now. So from that you can guess, from how late it is from the original ship date, how much stuff is probably missing. I believe we were able to create something that is something close to what we first envisioned.
Right now, you can select from 9 different character types, but we originally planned for 18. We have sketches of all 18 characters, with male and female versions but we had to cut those out for special reason. It probably would've been better if we put the rest of the characters, but then the game wouldn't be out yet (smiles).
IGN: Being the first massive online RPG project that Sonic Team has had to work on , what were some of the big hurdles getting the game online? We know that US Broadband was a little more difficult to implement because of all the different types of Broadband, but even the narrowband experience in PSO is amazing. How did you manage to keep it the game so solid for online play?
Yuji Naka: There were a whole lot of things we had to run experiments with different ISPs dial-ups, cable modems, assorted providers... stuff like that. We didn't do it here in the US, but in Japan we did a beta test with 10,000 users where each user received a trial network edition of PSO. Working with these beta testers, we got rid of a lot of the problems.
IGN: Lucky guys!
Yuji Naka: Well, the beta test in Japan was for the people who pre-ordered the game. We wanted to do that on a world-wide basis, but we didn't have time to.
IGN: Over in the US, several editors received a very early version of PSO that also allowed us to play online. In this early version, we noticed a "battle mode" feature. From talking to a few Japanese beta testers, we found out this mode allowed players to hit each other. Though this battle mode isn't in the final US version, is it possible we might see this "battle mode" available for download online?
Yuji Naka: Well, that's a hard question to answer. At this point, it's a maybe. The game was made with co-operation to be the main focus and to make the game competitive would seriously change how the game works and how the game balance works. We might release a new version of the game with the battle mode, where the gameplay balance is fixed, but it's really hard to say.
IGN: Speaking of add-ons, the game has great longevity but is Sonic Team planning on releasing an add-on or expansion pack disk to follow up Phantasy Star Online?
Yuji Naka: Well, at this point we finally got this game out, so first we want see the response from the market and what they think before we can make any decisions like that. There are online quests that you will be able to download into the game and we're thinking, "When is this project going to end?" (laughs). And even to make one new quest, we have to develop it, translate it into the five different languages, get the testing done... (sighs) we still have a lot of work.
IGN: Speaking of which, we're wondering how do you think that worked out. We have been playing online and have played with people from Japan online, and it's pretty interesting how it's been working out. How do you think the language system worked out in the end?
Yuji Naka: We were actually taking a look at the US servers earlier this afternoon, and we did notice a lot of people American and Japanese playing in the same parties. I have actually gone through it to look if the Symbol Chat and Word Select system is working... we haven't got to much feedback yet. But, the fact that they are in the same party means they are trying to play together and communicate and that's a really good sign... I'm pretty happy about that. When the European version ships out, we'll have even more languages being spoken. And the fact that these people probably would have never been able to play together because of the language barrier, and now they can, I'm really looking forward to seeing that. And I hope the users are, too.
IGN: Yes, we have played a lot of other PC online RPGs and when we played with players from other nations, it was fun but it was impossible to communicate with them. The fact that PSO gives you a decent ability to talk to international players is very cool.
Yuji Naka: If you can support even a little bit of communication, like what we have in PSO, even though it's a little awkward, I hope players will take advantage of it.
IGN: Even though we know you're not necessarily fond of sequels, we were curious if you plan to bring a new Phantasy Star game back to its single player RPG form now that this project is, well, "almost" completed?
Yuji Naka: I'm not really sure, but this is the first time I've worked on the Phantasy Star series in 13 years (Ed's Note: He was the main programmer for both Phantasy Star and Phantasy Star II). I am very fond of the Phantasy Star series of games and I always said that if I wanted to do an online RPG, it would be Phantasy Star. So, depending the reaction to PSO, maybe I'll get to work on the next Phantasy Star game right away... or (laughing) maybe I'll have to wait another 13 years. We visited a few retail stores earlier and they sold out of Phantasy Star Online, so I'm hoping US players will like the game.
IGN: We know it's still a bit too early to really talk about it a lot, but with the release of Phantasy Star Online, a lot of gamers got a chance to take a look at Sonic Adventure 2. We're wondering how is the game coming along, as we've noticed it's a lot more action-oriented and getting back to the roots of Sonic a furiously faster game.
Yuji Naka: The first Sonic game we did for the Dreamcast was a launch title, and that was still when we learning to use the Dreamcast. But it's been a year or two since then, and now we've gotten to the point where we can tap the full power of the console and deliver a much better experience to users. And I hope that's apparent with the demo disc in the US. And it is the 10th anniversary of Sonic as well, so I hope players will look forward to it.
IGN: Oh believe us when we say every DC owner is looking forward to it. Our last question, and we don't know how much you can comment about it, but in light of all the announcement this week about SEGA. I'm sure all of our Dreamcast owners that read our site are hoping that Sonic Adventure 2 is not Sonic Team's last Dreamcast game. We are wondering if you guys are planning on doing anything else, not necessarily what you're doing, but if you do plan to support the Dreamcast with any other titles?
Yuji Naka: Well, I can talk about specifics yet but Sonic Adventure 2 won't be Sonic Team's last title (smiles).