Yuji Naka

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Yuji Naka
Yuji Naka' - Magic - Monaco - 2015-03-21- P1030036 (cropped).jpg
Naka in 2015
Born (1965-09-17) September 17, 1965 (age 56)
Other namesYU2[1]
OccupationGame designer, producer, programmer
Years active1984–present
Employer
Notable work

Yuji Naka (中 裕司, Naka Yūji), credited in some games as YU2, is a Japanese video game programmer, designer and producer. He is the former head of the Sega studio Sonic Team, where he was the lead programmer of the original Sonic the Hedgehog series on the Sega Mega Drive. Naka also led development on games including Nights into Dreams (1996), Burning Rangers (1998), Sonic Adventure (1998) and three games in the Phantasy Star franchise (1987-2000). In 2006, Naka left Sega to found Prope, an independent game company. Naka also worked under Square Enix to direct Balan Wonderworld (2021).[2]

Early life[edit]

Naka learned how to program by replicating and debugging video game code printed in magazines. The experience prompted him to study assemblers and practice writing code during his school classes.[3] After graduating, Naka decided not to enroll in university and stayed in his home town.[4]

Career[edit]

Early Sega projects (1984–1990)[edit]

Around 1983, Naka saw that the video game company Sega was looking for programming assistants and applied.[5] Following a brief interview,[5] he began working for Sega in April 1984.[6] His first task was designing maps and checking floppy disks for Road Runner for the SF-7000; he could not recall if the game was released.[6] His first major project was Girl's Garden (1985), which he and the composer Hiroshi Kawaguchi created as part of their training process.[5] Their boss was impressed and decided to publish the game, and it earned them notice among their peers and Japanese gamers.[3] Naka's abilities as a programmer were further demonstrated on his work on Phantasy Star (1987) for the Master System, where he was responsible for the pseudo-3D animation effects in the first-person dungeons.[citation needed]

During a visit to the 1988 Amusement Machines Show, Naka was deeply moved by Capcom’s showing of Ghouls 'n Ghosts and was impressed by the ability to move diagonally on slopes. Hoping to recreate it, he asked his supervisors at Sega to allow him to port the game to the Mega Drive. Capcom provided him with the source code and ROM data. As he was developing the port, he experimented with aspects such as the speed of the main character to understand how they interacted with the environment. He also altered the slopes and was able to create a functioning 360-degree loop.[7]

Sonic Team (1990–2006)[edit]

Sonic the Hedgehog (1990—1991)[edit]

Sega president's Hayao Nakayama decided Sega needed a flagship series and mascot to compete with Nintendo's Mario franchise.[8] Naka created a prototype platform game that involved a fast-moving character rolling in a ball through a long winding tube.[9] This concept was expanded out with character design by Naoto Oshima and levels conceived by Hirokazu Yasuhara.[10] Naka hoped to showcase the Mega Drive’s processing speed through fast and exhilarating gameplay. Part of his approach was based on his experience playing through the original Super Mario Bros (1985); he wondered why he could not complete each level faster the better he got at playing the game.[11]

Sonic the Hedgehog was released in 1991 and received acclaim;[12][13] it greatly increased the popularity of the Sega Genesis in North America,[14] and is credited with helping Sega gain 65% of the market share against Nintendo.[15] Naka was dissatisfied with his treatment at Sega and felt he received little credit for his involvement in the success. He quit but was hired by Mark Cerny to work at the American Sega Technical Institute (STI), with a higher salary and more creative freedom.[16][14]

Sega Technical Institute (1991—1994)[edit]

At STI, Naka led development on Sonic the Hedgehog 2. It was another major success, but its development suffered from the language barrier and cultural differences between the Japanese and American developers.[17] The artist Craig Stitt described Naka as "an arrogant pain in the ass" who not interested in working with Americans;[18] another artist, Tim Skelly, said that Naka would have been happier working with an all-Japanese team because of the language barrier and cultural differences.[19] After Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was released in 1992, Naka refused to develop another Sonic game with the American staff;[20] a Japanese-only team was formed and led by Naka, and developed Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (1994) and Sonic & Knuckles (1994).[19]

Saturn (1994—1998)[edit]

Following the release of Sonic & Knuckles in 1994, Naka returned to Japan, having been offered a role as a producer.[21] With Naka's return, Sonic Team was officially formed as a brand,[22][23] and began work on a new intellectual property,[21] Nights into Dreams (1996), for Sega's 32-bit Saturn console.[24] Meanwhile, in America, STI worked on Sonic X-treme, a 3D Sonic game; among other problems, development was hindered by Naka's refusal to let STI use the Nights game engine, threatening to quit.[25][26] The X-treme developer Chris Senn said he understood Naka's interest in maintaining control over the Sonic Team technology and the Sonic franchise, and that "he must have felt very strongly about it he was willing to even threaten to quit".[27] Sonic Team was developing its own 3D Sonic game using the Nights engine, which may have motivated Naka's threat.[28] X-treme was canceled.[25][26]

Dreamcast and Sega restructure (1998-2006)[edit]

In 1998, prior to the launch of Sega's Dreamcast console, Naka and his team visited Sega of America to tour their development offices and observe their work on the game Geist Force, a rail shooter for Dreamcast. According to the producer Mark Subotnick, Naka told his team in Japanese which parts they would take to incorporate in Sonic games and suggested firing all but one of the engineers. Unbeknownst to Naka, several of the Geist Force developers understood Japanese and quit, contributing to the project's cancellation.[29]

Shortly after the Japanese launch of the Dreamcast and Sonic Adventure, Naka was contacted by Sega Chairman Isao Okawa to develop a flagship online game for the Dreamcast.[30] Originally, he was unenthusiastic about the idea given his team’s inexperience with creating online games. However, the other Sega development studios were preoccupied with their own demanding projects such as Sakura Wars series and Jet Set Radio (2000). This left Naka’s Sonic Team as the only other alternative that Okawa could rely on. In addition to their inexperience, Naka and his team saw the creation of an online game for Japan, a nation of console gamers, as a serious challenge, akin to creating a new genre. This was further complicated by the perception of online games in the late 1990s having boring visuals and the per-minute fee for dial-up internet in Japan.[30]

To combat these challenges, Naka split his team into three groups, all serving different purposes before rejoining to develop what would become Phantasy Star Online (2001). The first and second groups were focused on discovering the limits of the Dreamcast’s capabilities, specifically in terms of graphical fidelity and the possibilities of online play on the system.[30] The third group would work on various projects under Naka’s supervision that would lead them closer to their goal. This would culminate with the release of Sonic Team’s Chu Chu Rocket (1999), an action-puzzle game and the first game for the system to support online console gaming.[30] Additionally, it was the only game directed by Naka at Sega as he would move on to become a producer, overseeing all console game output from the company. Following Chu Chu Rocket’s release, all three teams collaborated on the development of Phantasy Star Online. It is reported that after Okawa became ill in 2000, Naka would send reports to the hospital, updating him on the team’s progress.[30]

In 2000, Sega began to restructure its development operations as part of the dissolution of Sega Enterprises, transforming its arcade and console studios into semi-autonomous subsidiary companies. While each studio was given an unprecedented amount of creative freedom, Naka felt it important to preserve the Sonic Team brand name, and therefore the legal name of the company was SONICTEAM, Ltd. Naka was installed as the CEO of the new company.[citation needed]

As Sega moved to restructure itself once again following the discontinuation of the Dreamcast in 2001, all of Sega's semiautonomous entities were reabsorbed, including Naka's Sonic Team. However, Naka remained as an executive officer, overseeing all of Sega's output until his departure in 2006.[31][32] According to the former Sega producer Takashi Yuda, senior Sega figures including Toshihiro Nagoshi and Yu Suzuki were reporting to Naka.[33] In late 2001 or early 2002, Peter Moore, the president of Sega of America, arranged focus groups with teenagers and found that Sega's reputation was declining. According to Moore, Naka responded angrily and accused Moore of having falsified the findings.[34]

Prope (2006–2016)[edit]

On March 16, 2006, Naka announced that he would leave Sega to create his own game studio, Prope.[35] Naka stated that he considered it a benefit to be able to create games other than Sonic the Hedgehog games.[36] Naka also explained that the video game industry was young, leading to quick promotions; he felt his senior position had given him less time to be close to development.[37]

During this time, Naka and Prope developed small games for the Nintendo Wii and mobile devices such as Wii Play: Motion and Ivy The Kiwi?. This included a reunion with Sega as they published Let’s Tap and Let's Catch for the Nintendo Wii. Naka explained that while it was uncommon in the west, he always maintained a strong relationship with the company despite his departure.[38] The games helped finance their first large-scale production, Rodea the Sky Soldier, which finished development in 2011 but would not be released until 2015.[39] According to Naka, Kadokawa Games, their publisher, would not release the game until they developed a version for the [Nintendo 3DS].[39][40] Following the launch of the Nintendo Wii U in 2012, Kadakowa opted to create a version for the Nintendo Wii U version of the game based on their 3DS version, delaying the game until 2015.[41][42]

In November 2015, Kadokawa Games released Rodea the Sky Soldier on the 3DS and Wii U, while packaging Naka and Prope’s Wii version as a bonus bundled with the initial print of the Wii U version.[41] In response, Naka used his social media following to request people to prioritize playing the Wii version.[43][44] Naka was awarded with the Bizkaia Award at the Fun & Serious Game Festival in 2016.[45]

Square Enix and independent work (2016–present)[edit]

Naka joined Square Enix in January 2018, originally planning to develop social mobile games.[46] However Square Enix producer Shinji Hashimoto encouraged him to develop games that would capitalize off the resurgence in classic action and platform games.[47] This led Naka to approach Naoto Ohshima, with whom he had not collaborated since the release of Sonic Adventure. The pair used Oshima’s development studio Arzest to develop this project.[citation needed]

In September 2019, Naka announced he was working on a game for the company called Balan Wonderworld.[48] Following the game’s release, Naka revealed that he was no longer working at Square Enix, and said that he was considering retirement.[2][49] In April 2022, Naka announced that he had sued Square Enix after he had been removed as the director of Balan Wonderworld six months before release. According to Naka, he was removed from his seat on the game following disagreements over the game’s stability. This decision was reportedly carried out by multiple parties at Arzest including the game’s producer and Human Resources. This also led to Naka being banned from sharing and liking posts on social media sites. Naka has stated that he attempted to negotiate with his business partners to address the issues he had with Balan Wonderworld, but they were ignored. This led to him deciding to file a lawsuit and concluded that Square Enix and the game's developer Arzest did not "value games or game fans".[50]

On December 22, 2021, Naka released a free mobile game, Shot2048, similar to the games 2048 and Chain Cube.[51]

Personal life[edit]

Naka is an avid racer and car enthusiast, having mentioned his Ferrari 360 Spider in multiple interviews.[52][31] In November 2004, he competed in round six of the Kumho Tyres Lotus Championship in Tasmania.[53] In April 2022, Naka participated in the first round of the Elise Super Tech competition at the Mobility Resort Motegi circuit, finishing 7th place.[54]

Works[edit]

Year Game Role
1984 Girl's Garden Game designer, programmer
1986 Spy vs. Spy Programmer (Master System port)
Black Belt Programmer[55]
Space Harrier Programmer (Master System port)[56]
1987 Phantasy Star Programmer
1989 Phantasy Star II Programmer, producer
Ghouls 'n Ghosts Programmer (Genesis version)
1991 Sonic the Hedgehog Programmer
1992 Sonic the Hedgehog 2
1994 Sonic the Hedgehog 3 Programmer, producer
Sonic & Knuckles
Sonic 3 & Knuckles
1996 Nights into Dreams
Sonic the Hedgehog Movie Supervisor
1998 Burning Rangers Producer
Sonic Adventure
1999 ChuChu Rocket! Director, producer
2000 Samba de Amigo Producer
Phantasy Star Online
2001 Sonic Adventure 2
Sonic Advance
2002 Sonic Advance 2
2003 Sonic Pinball Party
Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg
Sonic Battle
Sonic Heroes
2004 Astro Boy
Sonic Advance 3
Puyo Pop Fever
Feel the Magic XX/YY
2005 Bleach GC: Tasogare ni Mamieru Shinigami
Bleach Advance: Kurenai ni Somaru Soul Society
Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love
Shadow the Hedgehog
Sonic Rush
Puyo Puyo Fever 2 General producer
Rub Rabbits
Sega Ages 2500 (Volume 19-23) Executive producer
2006 Bleach: The Blade of Fate
Doraemon: Nobita no Kyouryuu 2006 DS
Sonic Riders
Sega Ages 2500 (Volume 24-26)
Phantasy Star Universe
2008 Let's Tap Producer
2009 Let's Catch
Ivy the Kiwi?
2011 Wii Play: Motion
Fishing Resort
2013 StreetPass Mansion / Monster Manor
2014 Digimon All-Star Rumble
Hi-sCoool! SeHa Girls Voice acting ("Center-sensei")
2015 Rodea the Sky Soldier Producer (original Wii version)
StreetPass Fishing / Ultimate Angler Producer
2016 StreetPass Chef / Feed Mii
2017 Legend of Coin Programmer[57]
2021 Balan Wonderworld Director[58]
Shot2048[59]

References[edit]

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  43. ^ Naka, Yuji. "Rodea the sky soldier will be released today in North America! ! Please play the Wii version". Facebook.
  44. ^ Naka, Yuji. "Rodea the sky soldier will be released today in Europe. Please play the Wii version absolutely". Facebook. Retrieved May 3, 2022.
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  54. ^ Naka, Yuji. "Elise super tec 2022 Round 1 Twin Link I ran the final at Motegi. It's good that the start of the race is tense. It was a goal in 7th place. I enjoyed the champagne fight for the first time in a long time in the SSP class". Twitter. Retrieved May 3, 2022.
  55. ^ Gantayat, Anoop (July 13, 2004). "Sega Ages 2500: Hokuto no Ken Playtest". IGN. Retrieved March 26, 2022.
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  57. ^ Naka, Yuji [@nakayuji] (December 12, 2017). "It is a work that I, Yuji Naka, was involved as a programmer for the first time in about twenty years. It took longer since I was studying Unity, C# and PHP and developing at the same time, but I believe that it came out great. Programming is really enjoyable" (Tweet). Retrieved September 2, 2019 – via Twitter.
  58. ^ McWhertor, Michael (July 23, 2020). "Sonic the Hedgehog creators reveal new 3D platformer, Balan Wonderworld". Polygon. Retrieved July 23, 2020.
  59. ^ "I created a hyper-casual game called [#SHOT2048]. This is the first time in my 37 years as a game creator that I, Yuji Naka, have made a game all by myself. I would appreciate it if you could play it and spread the word. Thank you very much". Twitter. Retrieved December 19, 2021.

External links[edit]