If you want to talk about it, what was your vision for [cancelled project] Shenmue Online?
YS: I wanted to do something MMO-like.
And how would you make that work within the Shenmue world, with everyone going about their daily life? Would you be able to play as a shopkeeper or something like that?
YS: I would have liked to have everyone living together in the same world, yeah. It's a town that players create as they enter the game and play it -- something like a multi-CPU system, with each player serving as a CPU.
How important do you think technology is to the design of a game? As you were evolving your designs, 3D was evolving, arcade boards were getting faster, and so on. Do you feel like game design pushed the technology; or did you feel constrained by tech in your designs?
YS: That's a hard question to answer, but the best way to do it, I suppose, is to say that you can make any game you like without the technology. Having advances in technology, however, does make it easier to evolve games, to take them to the next level.
Personally, I always want to make games that go hand-in-hand with new technology. Let's say there was some calculation that used to take two hours or so to finish. Then, suddenly, you find a new way to do it in software and hardware. That, in itself, opens up new doors and opportunities for games -- in AI, for example. It creates more opportunities for fun, the more CPU power you have. I think it can inherently lead to better games.
In the past, when Sega was also a hardware company, you perhaps had the ability to help shape that technology. Do you see yourself doing something like that in the future again?
YS: At the time, arcade hardware was the best out there in terms of performance, but after a while, that obviously ceased to be true. Sega proceeded along those lines for a while, but eventually they stopped, so certainly there's no way Sega is going to produce new high-performance hardware all of a sudden.
There's always the possibility of a partnership or something in the future, however. We can go to a hardware maker with a game concept they don't have, then we can work on it together. I started out as a programmer, on the software side, but by and large we were making hardware for the express purpose of the games I and everyone else at Sega were working on. It'd be nice if we could take that approach again sometime.
This is a silly side question, but who do you think was the best assembly programmer at the time?
YS: There were about four of five programmers at Sega who were really good -- I was the best, of course. [laughs] Or, at least, I was probably the best when it came to speed and optimization tricks.
That was a similar skill set to Naka. He did that Sega Master System Space Harrier port that was really crazy.
YS: Right, yeah. There were also Katagi [Hidekazu Katagi, coder of Fantasy Zone and Columns and chief programmer on Sakura Taisen] and someone who was behind the scenes on a lot of Sega [projects], Tojo, and Ikebuchi [Tooru Ikebuchi, co-programmer on Virtua Fighter, who later co-founded Dream Factory]. They were all really good at machine code. Mark Cerny, too.
We were talking about arcade boards for a minute -- what are you thoughts on the present state of arcades?
YS: That market certainly shrank too, didn't it? Well, it can't be helped! [laughs] You can't do much about it. There's lots of other fun things to do now -- YouTube, the internet, all kinds of things.
One of the main attractions of arcades is getting together with other people to play games in the same place. Do you see any similarities to online games in that regard?
YS: Network games allow you a larger base of players to interact with, is the thing. With an arcade, you had anywhere from a dozen to around a hundred people you could theoretically have as partners or opponents -- maybe 10 or 20, depending on the genre. With network games, though, there are tons more people, and a lot of opponents you never would've met offline either. It's really a different scene like that.
I'm also curious about your thoughts on the evolution of the fighting game genre; how it's evolved in 3D form since you were involved with it.
YS: It's really amazing that they've advanced the genre up to this point, I think. I mean, the first hardware we had to work with, we could generate only 300 polygons at the same time if we wanted to keep it at 60 frames per second.