IGN Interview with Yuji Naka

Interview Data:

  • Interview Date: 01 October 1999
  • Interview Topics: Multiplayer, Online, Nights, Chu Chu Rocket, PSO
  • Interview Source: IGN external.png

IGNDC Interviews Sonic Team's Yuji Naka
A revealing chat on everything from Phantasy Star Online to Jar Jar Binks staring in NiGHTS 2.

October 01, 1999 - Every now and then you get to sit down with someone important. Like the time Anoop had dinner with his personal heroes, the Fruit of the Loom models. But then there is that special occasion when you get to have an audience with a legend. For the crew at IGNDC, that moment came when we got to have a chat with gaming guru Yuji Naka. Sonic Team's front-man has been an integral part of countless Sega classics, from old-school titles like Outrun, Space Harrier, Sonic and Phantasy Star to new favorites such as Nights and Sonic Adventure. He has undoubtedly shaped the fate of many a gamer's spare time over the years, and with several new games coming out of the woodwork at TGS, we were lucky enough to speak with Naka-san on his thought on his work and the future of Sonic Team. Enjoy.

IGNDC: We've noticed that Sonic Team is very busy as of late with many different types of games why did you choose to develop the type of games you're working on now, and where do you think Dreamcast will take game development?
NAKA: I wanted to fully develop using the Dreamcast spec for controllers and networks. It was a natural resource to reach for different types of games. I want to utilize the main concept of Dreamcast, "Play and Communication". Graphics are indeed important but this is not all that's needed for creating good games.

IGNDC: Speaking of which, two of the games you're working on were developed specifically to use on-line communication. What challenges do you face developing for on-line, as it's a relatively new medium for gameplay?
NAKA: Console products are not like PC products. We still don't have any Online games yet. I want to develop a side of Online gaming that the PC hasn't expressed. It should be easier for consumers in terms of information and detail.

IGNDC: In particular, Chu Chu Rocket is an interesting departure from a game like Sonic Adventure. Could you tell us about your goals for the game and how you think game players in Japan will react to the title?
NAKA: This is a network title. I wanted to make people embarrassed, with the mice going all around the screen and everybody going into a panic. When we were testing that type of game, we found it interesting and fun, so we thought we'd make it a consumer product. We wanted to create something simple maybe it's not like a Dreamcast game, because they're so complicated and expensive. It is also cheap, actually we sell at 2800 yen (approximately $26USD), so it can appeal to everyone.

IGNDC: So there's a bigger concentration on fun, rather than graphics?
NAKA: Right. We wanted to tell the kids that a cheap, and simple games can be also a lot of fun.

IGNDC: I see. Sonic Team has made a lot of single player-only games in the past, but what does the team think of multiplayer games? Around the office, Super Puzzle Fighter is one of our favorites…
NAKA: We've always wanted to do multiplayer games. We tried doing two-player in Sonic, but it was quite difficult to create that.

IGNDC: Tell us about how you think Chu Chu Rocket will do with Japanese gamers. How would a game like this do in America? Could it come to the States in a similar fashion?
NAKA: I hope gamers to play this game all over the world. We're currently testing internationally, with Sonic Team USA.

IGNDC: Obviously, another big game that was announced at TGS was Phantasy Star Online. Personally, the Phantasy Star is my favorite of all time, back to the Master System and the Mega Drive, so I'm very excited about the game. We were wondering what you could tell us about your plans for the game.
NAKA: It's very early. We just announced it at TGS and we've just started developing. Thus, there's nothing that I can really reveal at this moment. But since there are so many Phantasy Star players out there, we wanted to announce it at a consumer show like TGS, directly to the gamers not necessarily to the media.

IGNDC: Yeah. Thanks for telling us, because we've been wondering about that since the Saturn!
NAKA: I always wanted to do a multiplayer Phantasy Star, but we weren't happy with the existing console specs it didn't have enough power to properly handle it. The Dreamcast, on the other hand, can.

IGNDC: We had wondered if you played Sony's Everquest, Ultima Online, or other online RPGs, and whether or not he had the same type of plans for Phantasy Star Online.
NAKA: Well, the thing is, with Ultima Online and EverQuest, the world exists only in the main servers. With Phantasy Star Online, the connection will be between multiple clients, so there's not only one server and one world. I guess you could say the system is similar to Diablo.

IGNDC: Ah! I see. Games like Diablo are really popular in America, but with the Internet in Japan being so expensive, they haven't really taken off. How do you think Phantasy Star will do in terms of drawing users into that environment?
NAKA: The high cost of Internet access might be a problem for Japanese Online games. I want everyone to know how interesting and enjoyable Phantasy Star Online will be but it will be a little bit expensive, so we're unsure how people will pay for it.

IGNDC: Since Internet in the States is so cheap — $20 a month for unlimited access a lot of people will literally spend days playing. How long will the average Phantasy Star Online session be?
NAKA: I don't know right now when you find out, let me know .

IGNDC: As soon as we get a playable…no problem. Moving on, for us, one of the games of show was Samba de Amigo. We were wondering how that came about, and what games influenced the desire to make that title. In other words, why maracas?
NAKA: The first thing that existed of the game was the title itself. We thought about multiplayer games on Dreamcast. Our first concept was where there's knocking on one side, ta-ta-ta-ta, and the response, ta-ta-ta-ta. Then we thought, let's not do knocking or hitting, but shaking. Obviously, that led to maracas. The main concept we wanted to express is nori ga ii, a Japanese term for when everybody gets excited, crazy, and a little stupid, partying and dancing around. You're having fun while under high tension you get that when you're doing Karaoke and people are playing maracas along with you. We wanted to capture that kind of feeling in a game.

IGNDC: Beat Mania and Dance Dance Revolution are coming to the home market. We've seen a lot of NAOMI games make the cross-over to the consumer side. Do you think there's a chance of Samba de Amigo coming home to the Dreamcast?
NAKA: Well, the maraca controllers are the big problem..

IGNDC: Well, SeaMan came with a microphone…
NAKA: If it gets really popular in Japan, you might see it in the US arcades. But those maraca peripherals are really difficult and expensive to develop. A Dreamcast version is …hmmm ….

IGNDC: Considering that the majority of Sonic Team's other games are done, or close to completion, will the other members of the team be shifted over to Phantasy Star Online, or will they be working on new projects?
NAKA: That's quite confidential.

IGNDC: Obviously, but that doesn't keep people from hoping. In the industry, everyone loves spreading rumors about NiGHTS 2, Burning Rangers 2, etc.. Do you enjoy working on completely new titles, as opposed to reworking Sonic or Phantasy Star?
NAKA: It's really difficult to say. With a new game, I can create new challenges and original content. With a sequel, there are a lot of fans waiting for certain things. But that's why I think what you can do in a sequel is limited. Phantasy Star Online, however, is not a sequel, so I'm pretty liberated. Everyone says they want NiGHTS 2 and Burning Rangers 2 do we create those, or make new games? I'm worried about what people will prefer. At the moment, I want to create new games. NiGHTS has incredibly hard-core fans it's almost the same thing with Steven Spielberg and ET 2. Hayao Miyazaki, the famous Japanese animation director, simply doesn't make any sequels.

IGNDC: Well, there's the new Star Wars…and we know how well that went over.
NAKA: But weren't you surprised with new characters? Personally, I think that new characters are more intriguing to see.

IGNDC: Very true, but to be honest, we're not too big on Jar-Jar Binks.
NAKA: (Laugh) Why don't you like him?

IGNDC: He's incredibly annoying.
NAKA: What are you going to do if he's featured in Episode Two?

IGNDC: We'll forget about it. If he gets killed at the beginning, we'll consider going. There'd be cheering from the audience…that alone would be worth the price of admission.
NAKA: Yet you seem to enjoy hating him!

IGNDC: He's the character you love to hate.
NAKA: Very interesting. Maybe we'll feature Jar-Jar in NiGHTS 2!

IGNDC: Sweet God, no!
NAKA: I guess that decision wouldn't go over too well, would it? You know, even though you hate him, that means Jar-Jar Binks is really a popular character. Of course to be loved is much better than to be hated, but that isn't always what makes character memorable. If you hate the character, it at least means you're interested in it. Lucas has always displayed a real gift for coming up with characters like Jar-Jar Binks. He is really a great creator.

IGNDC: True enough. Just make sure there are no annoying sidekicks in Phantasy Star. Naka-san, thanks for your time.
NAKA: You're welcome.

We'd like to thank once again thank Naka-san and everyone at SoA and SoJ who helped make this interview possible.

Interview conducted by Brandon Justice and Colin Williamson, IGNDC. Special thanks goes out to Miho Masuda, the translation sensation!


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