Yuji Naka will always be known as one of the original creators of Sonic the Hedgehog, but his Japanese-headquartered independent development studio Prope (Let's Tap), which he founded after leaving Sega in 2006, continues to create new games.
The company's newest release is a DS, Wii, and Windows Mobile title called Ivy the Kiwi?. This week, XSEED announced it is publishing the game in the U.S. for the two Nintendo platforms.
Gamasutra got a chance to speak to Naka about the inspiration behind Ivy, the current state of Prope, and gauge Naka's thoughts on the current state of the character action genre he helped popularize -- including an update on the state of Prope's "Sonic-like" platform game.
Namco Bandai published this game in Japan, but XSEED is publishing it in the U.S. How do you feel working with a U.S.-based publisher for the international version? How's the relationship, and do they "get" your game?
Yuji Naka: This is our first time working with XSEED, but I think we're developing a nice relationship. Their response time is very fast, and they have a good understanding of what the game is about. It was actually XSEED's suggestion to make the graphics more colorful for the U.S. version.
What's it like working with external publishers? You were at Sega for so long.
YN: Since departing from Sega, I've been talking to a lot of publishers, and I'm very surprised on how differently each publisher thinks about what games are, and the strategies behind them. It's been very refreshing, and I'm learning so much from it.
You've been focusing on smaller games lately, compared to the blockbusters of your Sega career. Can you talk about why?
YN: That's just simply because Prope is a lot smaller company than Sega (laughs). Of course, blockbuster titles are fun to work on, but the fun essence of a game doesn't equal the size of the game.
Compared to the days of Sega, I am now more involved in the smaller aspects of the game, so I can really mold the game the way I want to which is a lot of fun.
By the way, currently Prope has around 40 employees, and we are working on a title that is a little larger in scope than Ivy the Kiwi? at the moment.
Now that Prope has been around for some time, do you feel like things are going in the direction you had hoped for the company? Are you where you planned to be right now?
YN: This also applied to Sonic Team, but Prope has a very at-home type atmosphere where all team members work as one to create a game. We are very fortunate to have a lot of very talented staff members, and I believe our current situation is looking very good.
Where did the idea for Ivy the Kiwi? come from?
YN: Originally, a few of our young employees were working on the idea as an experiment. I really felt some great potential in the concept as a game so we decided to make it as a company project and it evolved into Ivy the Kiwi?
The player interaction with the world in Ivy is pretty simple. How do you keep it interesting in the long term?
YN: Ivy the Kiwi?'s controls are indeed very simple -- however, it is not an easy game. Once you play the game you'll understand that you won't be able to control Ivy as you want to. As you play though you'll find out that little by little you'll be able to control her more freely, and by the end you'll be able to perform some very sophisticated movements.
Ivy the Kiwi? has a wide range of skills that can be improved upon by the player. In the beginning it will be difficult just to reach the goal, but then you'll start wanting to collect all the feathers, and afterwards time trials will start and you'll want to complete stages faster to obtain better medals. (The time in which a stage was completed is only shown when all feathers for that level have been collected).
I think I was able to create the most ideal "simple but deep" game with Ivy the Kiwi?, which is what everyone aims for when creating a game.