Yuji Naka interview by Official Dreamcast Magazine (September 1999)
From Sonic Retro
This is an interview conducted by the Dreamcast Magazine with Yuji Naka.
Official Dreamcast Magazine: What did you want to when you were a kid?
Yuji Naka: When I was a child, there were many typical things... lika a train conductor, an airplane pilot, or an astronaut. I didn't think about making games at all. I realizied I wanted to make games when I was in the third grade in high school (17 - 18 years old). I applied to a game school in order to be able to come to Tokyo. I am originally from Osaka and stayed there until I was 18 years old. Then I came to Tokyo, and I've been with Sega for 15 years now. (Yuji Naka is 33 years old.)
Dreamcast Magazine: What games did you to play when you were child?
Yuji Naka: Namco's Xevious, Rally X, Bosconian..... Initially, I really wanted to work at Namco. But it wasn't possible since Namco didn't hire high-school graduates without a University degree at that time. And I really didn't want to go to University to study. So, I eventually decided to enter Sega (laughs).
Dreamcast Magazine: Why did you suddenly decide to work in the games industry?
Yuji Naka: I wanted to com to Tokyo, and I was getting more and more interested in computers at that time. But the main reason why I wanted to get involved with computers and programming was because of Rhuichi Sakamoto's Yellow Magic Orchestra. I really loved them. I took a part time job so I could save up for a synthesizer, but I finally bought a computer instead. By then, computers had become very interesting; I had started to play games, and then I began working at Sega. Maybe if I had bought the synthesizer, instead of a computer, I might have become a musician (laughs).
Dreamcast Magazine: What was the first game you worked on at Sega?
Yuji Naka: I began at Sega in 1984 and first worked on the SG-1000 Mark II [a precursor to the Master System]. I worked as a programmer on Girl's Garden, a game created to attract female players. It was actually a big hit at the time. All the main charachters in the game were girls, and in order get dates with boys, they dad to buy or pick flowers for them. There was serious competition for dates, therefore players had to be quick off the mard! There were even some annoying non-human emnemies, like bees and bears. It was really funny (laughs) Later on, I worked on Phantasy Star I and II with Oshima Naoto [the charachter designer of the original Sonic].
Dreamcast Magazine: How did the Sonic Team originally come together?
Yuji Naka: At the start, the Sonic Team was composed of Oshima Naoto and myself. The two of us were the "team" responisible for creating Sonic the Hedgehog, and once we decided to make it an action game, we began to gather a small group of very talented people. In fact, we only had about seven team members when we started actually making the game.
Dreamcast Magazine: Could you give us an idea of how the concept of Sonic originally came about?
Yuji Naka: At the beginning, Sonic was a simple tound shape we used in the program to simulate a character on the screen. Then we started to work on the charachter design, and we started to think about what kind of animal or character could move like this. At first, Sonic was a rabbit!! He could stop objects, hold them, and then throw them at enemies. But that broke up the flow of action, so we decided that in order to destroy or defeat enemies, the character would bump into them instead. To keep the action flowing, we designed and programmed the character to have a streamlined shape that rolled well. we found that there aren't to many animals that moved in this way. In fact, we only found the armadillo and the hedgehog had this potential, and decided to go with the hedgehog. Then, Oshima-san began work on Sonic's original design such as adding the spines on his back - it took approximately three months from initial concept to final design.
Dreamcast Magazine: What do you think has been the secret to Sonic's success?
YN. I've always been very serious about the success of every game that I've made. At the time that we were making Sonic the Mega Drive was not selling at all in Japan and the hardware was about to be released in the USA [as the Sega Genesis]. In order to crack the market in Japan, I wanted to make Sonic a hit in the US, so I decided to make a game that would be popular with Americans. At that time, it was a common to believe that games that succeeded in the US would become hits in Japan, too. It's only recently that this type of thinking is not so common anymore. So, I began creating Sonic with US players in mind. The game ended up very successful, as I hoped. Though, I really wished is sold as well in Japan..........
Dreamcast Magazine: When did you have the idea for Sonic Adventure? Wasn't the game initially planned for Saturn?
'Yuji Naka: Yes, we started to develop it for the Saturn around the time that Sonic Rs development was wrapping up. Sonic R was being done in the UK, but we handled the direcion and planning in Japan. We were already thinking up initial concepts for Sonic Adventure at the beginning of the hardware development stage of Dreamcast - around the summer of 1997.
Dreamcast Magazine: What was the biggest hurdle you faced during the development of Sonic Adventure?
Yuji Naka: The fact that we didn't have any hardware (laughs). The hardware was completed only two months before the Japanese release. That was the difficult thing for us.
Dreamcast Magazine: What has changed since the Japanese version?
Yuji Naka: We changed a lot of small details, but nothing very drastic as far as the game's visuals. For example, we changed some camera views and we fixed a few bugs. The US version will offer the same gameplay and levels as the Japanese version, and you can download data from the 'net in the same way too.
Dreamcast Magazine: What's your favorite level?
Yuji Naka: Probably Mystic Ruins. We went to South America to get a feel for the atmosphere of the jungle rainforests and ruins and we were very satisfied with the results. Mystic Ruins is very faithful to what we saw while there.
Dreamcast Magazine: Finally, is NiGHTS 2 heading for Dreamcast?
Yuji Naka: Yes, I was asked about this by many fans during this year's E3. Even Nintendo's Mr. Miyamoto asked me if I was making it! But it's also enjoyable to work on brand new titles - maybe even more so - than games from existing series.
- Original Interview at Angel Island Interviews.