[Legendary game creator Yu Suzuki, soon to leave Sega, sits down with Gamasutra to take a look at the past and onward into the future -- taking in everything from '80s assembly programming to the possibilities he sees for new mobile and social platforms.]
Yu Suzuki has been on the forefront of game design and technology since he entered the industry. It seemed as though with every game he made, he was not only pushing game technology to new levels, he was inventing a new genre. From After Burner II, to Out Run, to Virtua Fighter, to Shenmue, Suzuki has constantly blazed trails.
Unfortunately, following the commercial underperformance of the groundbreaking Shenmue series, which remains incomplete to this day, Suzuki has operated below the radar.
The last major project he announced for Sega was a new fighting game, Psy-Phi, which though tested in arcades in 2006 was never released for any platform.
Have his contributions to Sega been dialed back because of the fate of Shenmue, like many Japanese developers who preside over unsuccessful projects? Or has he, like many Japanese creators who rise through the ranks, been relegated to a purely managerial role?
Gamasutra recently sat down with him to find out what he's been up to recently, to reminisce about the past, and discover his plans for the future.
Let’s start with the obvious mystery. What have you been up to for the past 10 years or so?
Yu Suzuki: Well, in 2008 I established YS NET, my current company. I'll be leaving my current job at Sega this September, and after that point I'll remain on as an advisor. So I've formally been with both companies from 2008 until September 2011. With the new company, I've been doing pretty much what I personally want to do myself.
Do you want to talk at all about before that -- between Shenmue II and the formation of YS NET?
YS: Well, in 2004 I was... what was the name of the group? The names changed a lot, but as far as the games are concerned, I was involved with STV [Sega Race TV], and also with Psy-Phi, a game that was announced but ultimately wound up not getting released. With STV I was just the producer, not doing any director stuff with it. On Psy-Phi, I was director until the point it was cancelled.
There was one other title as well, and that one also got stopped by Sega midway. But maybe that was for the better, because the Sega of the time was not in all that good shape, and they were shrinking down a lot of projects... maybe that part of it doesn't need to get written down. [laughs] I don't want to impact Sega's image.
I don’t think that was a secret to anyone. With the new social game Shenmue Town, why go with Yahoo! Appli instead of Android or iPhone or something like that?
YS: Well, in Japan, there's an outfit called DeNA that's launched the Mobage Town network service. That, along with Gree, occupies most of the market share in Japan right now. So we went with that platform to start out with, but it's been our intention from the start for this to be a multiplatform project, so we're thinking about smartphone support now.
iPhone seems to have really picked up in Japan; obviously it's doing well in the West, so it seems like the direction to go to make Western fans happy.
YS: And Android will pick up as well, too, won't it?
Yeah. I have Android.
YS: I don't think the exact platform will be much of a problem either way. Certainly there are changes that would need to be made.
For most of your career, you were at the forefront of technology, pushing things forward in the arcades or consoles. I assume that was a conscious choice back then -- are you consciously not moving in that direction now, or is that something you're not really thinking about?
YS: I do still want to challenge frontiers along those lines.
What do you think is the direction that kind of technology is going now? Where do you see it going -- like, cloud computing or scaling down into smaller devices?
YS: I see a lot of possibilities in all of it -- networking, cloud computing, portable devices. Apple has a technology called AirPlay that lets you stream music wirelessly, and I think that's where it's going to go -- you'll be streaming video and all sorts of other digital media from handhelds to large screens and playing games with lots of other people from your portable devices.
As long as someone can figure out a good direct play interface on the iPhone. It's not very good as a solo controller.
YS: Perhaps, but there's still a lot that can be done with that interface, too.