Kikizo Interview with Yuji Naka and Mineko Okamura

Interview Data:

  • Interview Date: 24 June 2004
  • Interview Topics: Astro Boy, NiGHTS, Future Sonic
  • Interview Source: Kikizo external.png

As if overseeing the output of the entire Sega range wasn't enough, Naka-san is also charged with the development of projects within the Game Design Section of the studio we know as Sonic Team - and right now, those projects are many as they are varied.

This is just one studio where the company is stepping up its efforts to work with Intellectual Property owned outside of Sega - with Astro Boy a big hit in Japan and on its way to Europe. But of course, having one of the most instantly recognisable IP catalogues, the studio is working on more than just outsourced design briefs from upstairs.

Sega SuperStars, the company's foray into the world of EyeToy for PlayStation 2, is a project Naka-san seems personally very keen on, while extensions of massive properties like Sonic are well underway on Nintendo DS - at the very least. Elsewhere, projects like Phantasy Star Universe and Shining Force for PS2 continue at full pace.

We may be no closer to NiGHTS 2 - at least not as far as Naka-san is telling us - but nonetheless there's a lot to look forward to from this particular part of the Sega building.

Our most recent chat with Naka-san was somewhat more relaxed than last year, when pressure on him to finish two major projects was fairly obvious.

We were joined by Sonic Team Producer Mineko Okamura, who joined Sonic Team from the UGA side of last year's studio mergers. The lovely Mineko worked with Tetsuya Mizuguchi as Senior Assistant Producer on Rez and Space Channel 5, and is now taking care of the Astro Boy project - with plenty of love, it seems.

Kikizo: Let's start by discussing Astro Boy for PS2. This is a really popular brand in Japan but some western users might not be familiar with it - how did the Astro Boy project come to Sega and how do you think western users will respond to it?
Mineko Okamura: Astro Boy is a big project that Sony Pictures controls all over the world. In the United States, AstroBoy will be their first presentation, but it's popular in Japan, so I believe it has potential in the US too. On Cartoon Network, the new TV animation series will start soon also, plus there will be big merchandise promotions.

Kikizo: How did you start to build the game? One of our reviewers who has been playing Astro Boy for PS2 remarked on how it almost feels like NiGHTS when you're flying around, was that intentional?
Mineko Okamura: Well the story is based on the new TV animation series originally, and we are focussed on Astro Boy's abilities as a powerful, but child-like robot. He's powerful at heart but so small! He can fly freely like Superman, and these things are the attractive points of AstroBoy. Many who have played the game have said that it's a similar feeling to NiGHTS. It's a coincidence, but you know, we the members of the Astro Boy team love NiGHTS, so I'm flattered to hear that!

Kikizo: Which aspect of the game would you say is be most exciting for gamers?
Mineko Okamura: I think it's the combination of the exciting battles and the huge 3D maps. The Metro City, a stage in Astro Boy, is really so huge. He can fly fast and freely, and the battle effects are powerful and gorgeous. It's the same kind of excitement as you get with Sonic, so it has the potential to really reach out to western gamers.

Kikizo: Do you think that working with a license that is not owned by Sega, like Astro Boy, is something the company will be doing more of?
Mineko Okamura: I think this kind of collaboration is the start for Sega in the future. Other media like animation, music and movies, love to join the game industry all the time. Sega is always looking for something new and exciting.

Kikizo: Are there any developments with any plans for NiGHTS 2, as rumours continue to be persistent?
Yuji Naka: Basically, what you mentioned with Astro Boy is that it offers a similar experience to NiGHTS, so just play Astro Boy first and see what it's like - with the 3D maps and everything - and then you can think of something that could be fitted into NiGHTS 2!

Kikizo: On to Sega SuperStars for EyeToy. Obviously the concept originated in Europe but you're working on the title yourself. What was your initial reaction to the concept?
Yuji Naka: Well as you know EyeToy is a big hit in Europe, obviously because of the camera features. For Sega to release something for EyeToy, we thought about something that would be fun and that collaborates multi characters, and all kinds of different styles of gameplay that take advantage of the camera features. And it worked out that for Sega SuperStars I was the one to represent the collaboration of Sega's entire range. I think it will be really popular with fans.

Kikizo: How do you see yourselves taking advantage of Nintendo DS and PSP?
Yuji Naka: So as you know we will be releasing Sonic for DS and Puyo Pop for PSP, but both platforms really have great advantages and strengths, so it's important for titles to take advantage of those features properly.

Kikizo: Do you think you'll be moving away from the same-game-on-two-platforms thing, or will you be tailoring future Sonic titles to suit the features of each format - and if so how will Sonic DS take advantage of the dual screen feature?
Yuji Naka: Definitely, game titles will be tailored for each platform. This includes EyeToy too. We are thinking about the new possibilities of EyeToy, Nintendo DS and PSP. But we're thinking that some titles can still be released on many more platforms.

I had a new impression of Nintendo DS when I had the chance to see the touch panel feature. As DS was presented to all the game creators we all thought about the new possibilities for upcoming titles. This brand new device has a lot of cool new possibilities for the new Sonic title. With touch panel, there is a lot you can do - you can slide on it, or just touch it and hit it, or whatever - and a lot of this will suit Sonic DS.

Kikizo: As a game developer, which new handheld platform do you find more exciting, Nintendo DS or PSP?
Yuji Naka: Well I would say both of course. While the Nintendo DS offers touch panels, the wireless features of both entices gamers to play together more

Kikizo: The Sonic Adventure series is obviously finished, and Sonic Heroes is a brand new series - will it continue and if so in what direction?
Yuji Naka: Well Sonic is obviously a major series and a major character for Sega, that we're going to continuing creating, and opening up possibilities for new gameplay styles.


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