GMR Interview with Yuji Naka and Mineko Okamura

Interview Data:

  • Interview Date: 16 March 2004
  • Interview Topics: Astro Boy, Chu Chu Rocket, PSO
  • Interview Source: GMR external.png

GMR: Most of the games Sonic Team has done have been for GameCube. Why the switch to PlayStation 2 as the platform of choice for Astro Boy?
YN: Simply stated, it was because I thought that the Astro Boy universe was suitable to the PlayStation 2 platform and the market it represents.
MO: The Sony Pictures group joined Tezuka to publish the Astro Boy TV anime project, so we thought that a co-promotion leveraging our relationship with Sony just made sense. Naturally, PlayStation 2 becomes the most suitable platform for the game.

GMR: The way in which Astro Boy flies around, dashing to and fro, reminds us of NiGHTS. Are the similarities intentional, or purely coincidental?
YN: The similarities between the two games are purely coincidental. Astro flying about freely in 3D space is definitely one of the key attractions in this game. Once it was created, I certainly felt it had an atmosphere that was somewhat similar to that of NiGHTS.
MO: It is totally coincidental. You might find similarities between the two titles because they were both developed to be fun experiences based on quick character actions in the gameplay. We, of course, are flattered to hear this!

GMR: If Astro Boy is a success, will Sega continue to make more Astro Boy or Tezuka games?
YN: Sega has developed a strong, long-standing relationship with Tezuka Productions. If the game meets our expectations, achieving a high level of success, I think there will be a good possibility that we will continue the franchise.

GMR: Everyone loves a good puzzle game, and few games of this nature are as original and addictive as ChuChu Rocket. Where's our sequel?
YN: Yes, it is also a game I like very much, so I hope we will update ChuChu Rocket someday in the future! In the near future, you can expect Sonic Team to release another game based on the Puyo franchise in North America. So perhaps the puzzle addicts will be satisfied for this year.

GMR: Sonic Team seems to be the most prolific of all of Sega's development teams. What can we expect to see in the future from Sonic Team?
YN: I am not sure if we are the most prolific. It might seem as such because we have so many titles in our development schedule that happen to have fallen in the same period. We would like to continue to produce a number of titles that will keep gamers happy and entertained.

GMR: Will we ever see a conventional sequel to Phantasy Star Online? What do you think of games like Final Fantasy XI? Can you foresee a future where PSO expands into a massively multiplayer online experience?
YN: MMORPGs like FFXI are also very interesting and have possibilities. However, my feeling is that there also exists a market for fun online RPG franchises such as PSO, where players can enjoy adventures in which they take actions in real time.

GMR: How do you feel the gaming landscape has evolved in regard to gamers' tastes? As Western developers prove they can compete in the same genres once dominated by their Japanese counterparts, is it getting harder to find success?
YN: The gaming industry has obviously evolved in favor of Western development. I believe that Japanese developers should work harder to compete in the changing environment.

GMR: Is Astro Boy's story original for PS2, or does it adapt a classic piece of Astro Boy's manga history?
MO: It inherits the concept of an ideal relationship between human and robots from the TV series and manga, but we redesigned the story and some of its scenarios to suit the platform. The latter half of the story is pretty much original.

GMR: Astro Boy began life as a United Game Artists (Space Channel 5, Rez) title. How much has the original game design changed since UGA was absorbed into Sonic Team?
MO: Nothing much has changed since the studios have merged. However, you could say that we are concentrating more on game development. UGA was located in Shibuya, where there are lots of fun things to do, whereas Sonic Team is located at Otorii, near Haneda Airport, where there is only a McDonald's—you know what I mean? [Smiles] Sonic Team's new environment was good for us.

GMR: What is Sonic Team's design focus with Astro Boy?
MO: Astro can fly freely with great strength like Superman and he is powerful like Hulk, but he is a child and very small. These gaps are what make him attractive, so we have focused on a boylike, often mischievous flying action. He can fly everywhere in big 3D maps, and he can pull up a lamppost or lift a big car and use those items to beat enemies. We also wanted the character to possess realistic actions that leverage the Havok physics technology. This way, Astro can play catch in his house and have a lot of fun just like a real boy. Please get into Astro Boy and use the Astro character to do everything as you would as a superhero kid!

GMR: Growing up yourself, what sort of influence did Astro Boy have on your own life?
MO: When I was a little girl, I read all of Tezuka's mangas, so my heroes were several of his characters. Of course, Astro was already a huge hero in Japan, so I am most excited to reintroduce his character to a new generation of children. I am so happy to be involved in Tezuka's world using a new medium—a 3D videogame.


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