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Everyone in the game industry knows the name Tetsuya Mizuguchi. The celebrated creator of works ranging from classic arcade game Sega Rally to innovative hits like Rez, he's an outspoken and thoughtful game creator. But everyone who works in the game industry also knows that no creator works alone.
Reo Yonaga is one of Mizuguchi's most important collaborators, and game director of most Q Entertainment projects. Having been with Mizuguchi since his days at Sega, Yonaga moved to Q Entertainment to work on projects like Lumines, Every Extend Extra, and Ninety-Nine Nights.
Gamasutra is pleased to present the only long-form English interview with this up-and-coming game designer published so far.
Brandon Sheffield: Since when did you start working with Mizuguchi?
Reo Yonaga: I got to know him at UGA. [Ed. Note: United Game Artists, the Sega development team headed by Mizuguchi, which created the Space Channel 5 series and Rez.]
BS: That's a while ago. How many years has it been?
RY: I think it's been about five years. Wait a minute, let me count. I was 23, plus two years is 25, add another three years, that makes 28. I'm 33 now, so yeah, five years approaching six.
BS: What was your last game? Before Every Extend Extra, from the UGA days.
RY: Actually when I was at UGA, one of the games that I worked on was cancelled.
BS: Can you talk a little about that game?
RY: Mizuguchi-san might still want to produce that game so I can't say much, but what's been revealed and is running in the news is that Mizuguchi-san went to talk to John Woo.
BS: I asked Mizuguchi the same question but he also couldn't say much.
RY: Well the public knows that Mizuguchi went to talk to John Woo and Sega was interested in working on a project with John. That made the news. In terms of content, it's probably still a work in progress for Mizuguchi so I need to keep quiet.
BS: It may be in progress, even though it's a game from your UGA days?
RY: That's right, UGA. It's through that job that I got to know Mizuguchi and got involved with games. Before that I was working on touch panels, like those you see at yakiniku restaurants. Back then UGA was launching a project to produce touch panels. I also worked on a mobile phone application plan.
BS: How about even earlier?
RY: I was at a record company working on Flash games and fan club member services. When streamed programs came out on the internet, I would emcee for weird shows, and film and edit video clips. In other words, I worked in the digital department of a record company right when broadband service made its debut and ISDN was still the fastest connection available. So even if recordings were updated daily overseas, taping and editing with the broadband service took four hours or so. That's the kind of work I did.
Coming back to what we were talking about, Mizuguchi-san came to me and suggested that we make money by providing SMS services to the Chinese market. "What do you think?" he asked me. "Do you know how many times bigger the population in China is compared to Japan?" he would say. I was tempted by this opportunity and left Sony Music for UGA.
In the end, while I was at UGA none of the games I worked on were released. That's when talk about establishing Q Entertainment with five or six founding members came up. Mizuguchi-san invited both Otsuki and I to join. Like me, Otsuki started at Sony Music, so when the company was first established, of the members that became the non-Lumines team, both Otsuki and I were from the recording industry and games were not our strength. We only had experience in digital art and some CD-ROM stuff, that's it.
In the end our team went on to create N3 [Ninety-Nine Nights] and Battle Stadium D.O.N., a Japan-only game that incorporates characters from Dragon Ball, among others.
Eighting/Bandai Namco's Battle Stadium D.O.N.
BS: Did Q create a Dragon Ball game? I didn't know.
RY: Yes we did. Dragon Ball, One Piece, and Naruto all appear at once. If I remember right, when you look up that game my name comes up first (laughs). In Japan that game did pretty well, selling roughly 250,000 copies, but it did fall short in many areas. Kids are harsh critics; we got a lot of feedback off of kids' BBS sites.
Tim Rogers: There are kids' BBS sites?
RY: Oh yeah, kids' BBS sites are no joke in Japan. Every time a new game like Pokémon is released, related posts flood those sites. You can tell kids are commenting because everything is written in hiragana and there's hardly any kanji being used. Also kids don't really think about the circumstances of others so they would post things like "My friend's coming at 6 so please tell me before then!" when 6 o'clock is only 30 minutes away.
Normally on BBS sites, people post questions and wait patiently for someone kind enough to come along and provide answers. Because kids are so blunt, for WiFi games that involve rescue missions - you know what I'm talking about - crazy verbal battles break out.
TR: How old are these kids?
RY: I'd say they range from first graders all the way up to kids half way through middle school. It's fun to read up on private kids' pages created by Nintendo DS users.