Amusement Vision interview

We talk with the makers of Super Monkey Ball, Daytona, and Planet Harriers.

Sega development team Amusement Vision has carved out an a respected place among the internal development houses at the company. Best known for its action-oriented arcade work such as the Daytona series, SpikeOut, SlashOut, and Planet Harriers, Amusement Vision surprised its audience with its most recent arcade release, Monkey Ball. Developed on Sega's Naomi arcade board, the game found players controlling monkeys encased in plastic balls in search of bananas, and it was a broad departure from the team's previous work.

With Sega's recent shift to third-party development, Amusement Vision revisited Monkey Ball and developed an enhanced version of it for Nintendo's GameCube. The end result, Super Monkey Ball--which was released at the system's Japanese launch earlier this month--is a game that offers a great deal more than its arcade counterpart. We recently spoke with Toshihiro Nagoshi, president of Amusement Vision, about his company's new direction, its future plans, and, of course, monkeys.

GameSpot: Was it a conscious decision to make Super Monkey Ball for the GameCube?

Toshihiro Nagoshi: It wasn't a conscious decision, just a business decision.

GS: Will it be exclusive to the GameCube?

TN: We agreed to do a GameCube version, but if the market demands, we'll do a PlayStation 2 version. The main target audience for Monkey Ball matches Nintendo's target audience. So I wanted to debut the title on the GameCube.

GS: So will Amusement Vision stay strictly arcade and home consoles? Or will you be doing games for the GBA? Monkey Ball on the GBA, for example?

TN: We're considering the GBA right now.

GS: How many multiplatform games do you have in development?

TN: We can't say at the moment.

GS: Can you say which platforms ?

TN: At the moment we're focused on the GameCube.

GS: How large is Amusement Vision?

TN: Around 50 people. Of the nine internal Sega teams, we're probably the smallest.

GS: How large was the Super Monkey Ball team?

TN: Around 10-20 people. It's easier to manage smaller teams, but with the time frame on the GameCube, we needed a larger team.

GS: How long did it take to make Super Monkey Ball for the GC?

TN: It ended up becoming a totally different game from the arcade because of all the extra features. Converting the original arcade game took just a few weeks, but all the extra features were another six months or so.

GS: How was it working with the GameCube hardware after working with Dreamcast and arcade hardware?

TN: We feel more comfortable with the GameCube.

GS: Did you intend to enhance Monkey Ball so much before releasing it for the GameCube?

TN: We intended to add extra features from the beginning.

GS: Will Super Monkey Ball be a model to follow, in terms of all the extras included, for future home conversions of Amusement Vision's arcade titles?

TN: I'm not sure if we could do the same volume of extras as we did for SMB GC, but I feel the console users are different. It's our intent to add extra features when we do arcade conversions for home consoles.

GS: Looking at all the work Amusement Vision has done, Super Monkey Ball is a departure from that work. What brought about the inspiration to do such a game?

TN: Well, our past titles have been more realistic and simulation games, but if we keep doing those kinds of titles, we'll get bored. That's why we intend to do different games like Monkey Ball. Our policy is to release a game that matches market demand at the time. Just because we've released racing games doesn't mean that's all we'll do. Our intention is to release a title the users are demanding. We don't feel restricted by genres.

GS: What do you think of the current gaming market?

TN: It's lacking vitality. I don't think the gaming industry will disappear. Any media, such as movies, cartoons, or any other sort of media, will go through a period of stagnancy. And because the gaming industry has grown so rapidly, these stagnant periods are coming faster than others. Maybe that's why people are afraid something's going to happen to the industry. I feel only new types of games that offer new directions and fun [gameplay] will survive now.

GS: Given the state of the arcade industry in general, do you see Amusement Vision shifting its focus away from arcade development and toward console development?

TN: No, but we are more interested in console games. The development teams had fun and we might keep this direction for a while. Because of the recent recession in Japan, arcade operators are hesitant to purchase new arcade machines.

GS: Where does that leave the development of a new Daytona?

TN: Of course we're thinking of it, but because of it's one of our flagship titles, we don't want to release it until we believe in the product. We want to do more than enhance the graphics and the sense of speed. We want to add a new dimension to the game.

GS: Would you be interested in taking the Daytona series to the GameCube?

TN: It depends on inspiration. If I have an inspiration to do a console game, yes. If there's inspiration for an arcade game, then we'll do that. At the moment there's no plan, but that doesn't mean it won't happen.

GS: Do you see Amusement Vision doing original titles for the GameCube or doing enhancements of your arcade titles?

TN: At this moment, we're willing to do original games on the GameCube.

GS: What kind of games would you like to see Amusement Vision branch out in?

TN: I can't say.

GS: What kind of games do you like to play?

TN: Something like Pikmin. When I saw the promotional video for Pikmin at a presentation, I nearly cried. I could almost feel what was going to happen in the game's story. I believe games that convey that kind of excitement to players inspire developers and players. Those are the games I want to play.

GS: What are your long-term goals for the company?

TN: Just to develop good games.

GS: How do you feel about network games?

TN: The concept of network games is not bad. The problem is the billing system is not well accepted by users. It's up to game manufacturers to figure out how to introduce this to users and make it accepted by them. Internet society has already accepted the idea of downloading games or watching movies. But when it's linked to game network, it suddenly becomes harder to accept. We have to think about how to educate people.

GS: Will Planet Harriers be coming home at any point?

TN: Well, I saw two people at Space World playing Monkey Ball. I found out they were from Nintendo of America after I talked to them. Once they found out who I was, they asked me for Planet Harriers too. [laughs] The problem is the difficulty was very high for Planet Harriers and it was more for hard-core gamers. But if the market demands it, I'll consider it.

GS: Do you think some of your other arcade titles such as SpikeOut and SlashOut will find their way home?

TN: We won't do a conversion of SpikeOut or SlashOut to a console. But our development teams have requested the chance to make a game based on one of them.

GS: You've been making games for quite a while now. Is it still fun to do? Or is there more pressure?

TN: I feel pressure to make profit off my titles. [laughs] I've always felt it.

GS: Is it still fun?

TN: Yeah. I've never regretted going into game development.

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