Yu Suzuki, in a light-hearted GDC talk, revealed the roots of his more ambitious games, as guided by long-time associate Mark Cerny, who worked at Sega during the release of several of Suzuki’s seminal games. “One of the things I remember is Virtua Racing,” said Cerny. “There’s something about that pit.”
“When I made Virtua Racing,” said Suzuki, “there was the pit scene, and I needed moving people in it. And for Virtua Fighter, I used the pit crew simulation as a basis. I was basically trying to practice animation of people in 3D.”
Virtua Fighter 1 was really primitive, Cerny noted, but VF 2 had textures, which was pioneering for the game industry. “In 1991, the Soviet Union dissolved,” Suzuki began. “And the military technology had to be combined with private industries to keep afloat."
"Flat shading was all I could do with VF 1, but texture mapping technology was my dream," he said. "And military simulation companies were the only ones that had that technology."
"GE technologies had that in the U.S., so I asked Sega if I could use that kind of chipset in consumer industries, and everyone said it was impossible. But since the Soviet Union fell, it became much easier,” he said. “I was told the 3D chip would cost $2 million. The boss of Sega said ‘get it for $50.’ But Sega eventually reduced the chip price to that level anyway.”
Cerny noted that at that time in the 80s and 90s, there was increasing pressure to make games quickly. One of the issues was with Sega president Hayao Nakayama. “When he sees a moving picture, he thinks the game’s completed,” Suzuki joked.
“When he sees it he says ‘put that on the market immediately!’ so I had a button under the table, and when I pushed the button, I destroyed the picture, I called it the 'Nakayama Knob,'" he said. It distorts the colors and the image. So I always pushed the switch when Mr. Nakayama was in. Unfortunately, when I was doing After Burner, he found out because when he came by, I wasn’t there!”
As a final anecdote, Suzuki discussed the construction of the R-360 cabinet for G-LOC: Air Battle, which could rotate in 360 degrees. There were a few near-death experiences. “When I first made that, Sega made the electronics with two axes,” Suzuki said.
“When the sample was made, I was asked to get on it," explained Suzuki. "I found this giant contraption in front of me. I was strapped to it, and then everyone else had to rotate the thing. It was a 5 story building, and I was on the roof. I was scared! I was told not to eat before I sat on that wheel!”
He was told not to sit on it by himself, and never work alone on the device, “because it was dangerous!” he said. “Don’t program it alone, was the edict. But one programmer didn’t follow the rules, and the safety lock didn’t trip. So he was stuck in there upside-down all night until someone found him the next day. He was kind of a showpiece!”