This is an interview conducted by the website Kikizo, with Yuji Naka. This interview takes place in 2009 some time after Yuji Naka left Sega.
Kikizo: I think people were surprised when it was announced that you'd end up working with Sega after all, having left Sega to set up Prope. By contrast, Mizuguchi-san has only worked with other publishers since leaving Sega. Why did you take this direction?
Yuji Naka: I'm not sure how it is in the western games industry, but Japanese games development is very small. So as a creator, once you've reached a certain point, you take on more of a managerial position and don't get to make the games any more, and I think that's why people like Mizuguchi-san and I go independent and set up a new company. And so far, it's often been the case that when these people go independent and set up their own company, the creators sort of act 'against' the old employer - almost like a rivalry. But I didn't have that intention - I didn't have that kind of relationship with Sega - so it came quite naturally for me to maintain that strong relationship with them. And I always knew that these [Prope] titles would be published by Sega.
Kikizo: At TGS, and you mentioned that you are working on a character-based action title in the style of Sonic. When do you think we may learn more about this title?
Yuji Naka: Well, before Let's Tap came about, there had been two action-adventure games in development - one of which was originally due to be released last year, but in the end that title was canceled. And there was another one, which was in development for a couple of months. Meanwhile, Let's Tap was in development, and that's been released in Japan now. So this kind of character-based action game is always something that's on my mind, but this is an ongoing negotiation with Sega, so I don't know when it might be released, and there's no guarantee that it will actually be approved. So I can't really comment further on that. But once the time comes, when there is a guarantee that it's going to come out, then I'll be able to start talking about it.
Kikizo: How do you now reflect on Sega deciding to leave the hardware business?
Yuji Naka: I was very much against Sega ceasing to develop hardware, and I think at the time Phantasy Star Online was just about to come out. Okawa-san, who was the head of Sega at the time, said that the networked approach to gaming was something we should pursue, and so that game was developed with that concept fully in mind. At the time, internet infrastructure wasn't really up to the standards it is now; not everybody was even online, whereas now, everyone's got it. Chu Chu Rocket was released as a test to see what was possible, and as a result of that we subsequently developed Phantasy Star Online. But yeah, until the very final moments, I was really against Sega leaving the hardware business. In a way I feel that, had that decision not been made, Sega would have gone bankrupt - so maybe it was a good business decision. But at the same time, I also feel like, what the hell - we should have given it a go, and we should have taken that risk. But that is just my personal opinion, because I really enjoyed the hardware side of things at Sega.
Kikizo: Going a bit further back, I wonder if you can clear up some speculation that's been around for years now, that Michael Jackson was involved in the music production for Sonic 3? There is some really quite convincing evidence on the internet. You must surely be the guy to say yes it's true, or no it's not?!
Yuji Naka: [laughs] It's best that you ask Sega!
Kikizo: Well, er, it was your game, Naka-san... nobody at Sega would even know any more...
Yuji Naka: It's a mystery [laughs]. This information is on a need-to-know basis! [laughs more] One day, when the time comes, I will give you the information!
Kikizo: Well, we'll look forward to that. What's your favorite game ever and why?
Yuji Naka: Lemmings. I consider the architecture and the system of the game really quite superior. And the fact that each one of the Lemmings has got its own designated roles and different movements - yet their characteristics are based on real Lemmings, so from a character design point of view also, I find Lemmings quite fascinating.
Kikizo: Well thank you for your time. Now, in my photo, I would like to include the orange socks you are wearing, to show how you have color-coordinated...
Yuji Naka: [In English] Yes - Prope's corporate color is orange!
Kikizo: And did you choose orange because of Dreamcast?
Yuji Naka: Yes. [laughs]
Kikizo: Well, then it's a good choice.