Toshiro Nagoshi Q&A

We speak with the head of Amusement Vision--formerly known as AM4--to get his thoughts on Super Monkey Ball, developing for multiple platforms, the console version of Planet Harriers, and more.

Game developer Toshiro Nagoshi is president of Amusement Vision, one of Sega's most seasoned internal development teams. Originally known as AM4, Amusement Vision is best known for its action-oriented arcade work such as the Daytona series, SpikeOut, SlashOut, and Planet Harriers. On the console side of things, Amusement Vision's recent work includes the online Dreamcast incarnation of Daytona USA . Following Sega's shift to third-party developer, Amusement Vision developed Super Monkey Ball , a GameCube version of its arcade title Monkey Ball. Featuring a host of extras and excellent multiplayer options, Super Monkey Ball was one of the highlights of the GameCube launch for both Japan and North America. We recently had the chance to talk with Nagoshi--in town for last week's Game Developers Conference--to ask him about game development and his thoughts on the industry.

GameSpot: Are you happy with the way Super Monkey Ball turned out for the GameCube?

Toshiro Nagoshi: I think I'm pretty satisfied. As a party game it has good balance, and I think our original intent came out pretty well.

GS: Are you happy with how it's performed in terms of sales?

TN: I wanted stronger sales in Japan. My expectation was that it would do better in Japan, but right now it looks like it's going to be doing better in the US.

GS: Was creating a game like Super Monkey Ball a reaction to the way the industry has changed?

TN: I always wanted to do a "cute" game that looked beautiful, but I never really had the chance to do it. So this was my creative energy coming out in that direction. When I was predominantly working on Dreamcast at the beginning, that machine was catering to an older audience, so, you know, they needed a different type of game. I didn't have a chance during that phase to do too many games like this, so this was a good chance.

GS: What's your opinion of the hardware that's out on the market right now?

TN: I think all the consoles have different strengths, giving the market a lot of variety, which is good. I think the hardware horizon is in good shape.

GS: Is it a challenge to decide which platform to develop on?

TN: I think it's the other way around, actually. Now that there's such a variety in hardware--so many personalities in the console market--every time you come up with a concept like "I want to make a cute game for this age group" or "I want to do a network game for this age group," now you can actually find a platform that matches your target well. So now developing becomes a little easier, I think.

GS: In terms of resources, do you feel you can develop on any console, given the challenges associated with each of them?

TN: I think having the choice of which platform to develop on I mentioned earlier is good, but at the same time, it really requires a team that can develop for anything. So, in that sense, it is a tougher world out there, meaning you need to have a development team that has a wide range of programming and graphics skills to fit the various platforms.

GS: Do you have a dedicated internal R&D team that researches all the platforms?

TN: We don't necessarily have an internal team to look at all the hardware. We really start from the content side. "This is concept, this the content, this is the right platform for it." If the platform isn't familiar to us at the time, we'll just find a team that is familiar with it and go raid them. [laughs] By talking to teams that are familiar with specific hardware platforms, we can get a lot out of them. So we do it that way.

GS: Teams within Amusement Vision or Sega?

TN: Within Sega, or even outside Sega, if we're friendly. We raid them and they raid us, so we have a mutual give-and-take relationship.

GS: Given Sega's focus on profitability, how much does concern over sales affect game development?

TN: Well, we've always had market-oriented thinking when we've created games, but that's been honed further, which is a good thing. So we think we'll be all right.

GS: Does that marketing sense cause you to choose not to pursue a concept that's too radical or different?

TN: My goal is to make people happy, and that usually equates to good marketing sense. The more people buy a game, the happier they are, so I don't have problem, really.

GS: Does that mean we might see more sequels from Amusement Vision?

TN: I think any hit has more than one game inside it, but we don't try to do sequels to economize. It's to further flesh out the potential of a game concept, so it's not an efficiency issue--it's more a good business thing.

GS: When we spoke in Japan last year, you mentioned that you had thought about doing something with the Daytona series or Planet Harriers. Now that you've seen the personalities of the various consoles, are those still titles you'd be interested in bringing to a console?

TN: I think those two titles are very dear to me, and ideas of how to do them right on a platform are always floating around in my head. But there are also things that I want to do even more than that, so these new things are what I might focus on next.

GS: Now that you've developed for the console and arcade platforms, do you have a preference for one or the other?

TN: I think they're both equally good. Developing for each is fun in its own way.

GS: So you like to challenge yourself?

TN: Yes, it's very important for me.

GS: Would you ever think about doing a game for a portable game system?

TN: I think, for Amusement Vision, those platforms are going to be more and more important. The challenge is slightly unnatural in a way, because we're very advanced in arcade and console development, and when you take a look at the Game Boy Advance, you're basically going back to the Super Nintendo level. The methodologies for creating games for those systems are very different, so we might have to learn old tricks again. Which is kind of an unnatural challenge these days. [laughs] We think it's important, though.

GS: Can you give us some insight into how you go about developing a game?

TN: There are many methods of creating a game, but one of the things that keeps ringing in my mind is that I always come up with the central theme, or how the game plays, as an idea. Once I get that, I try to present it to a group and see if that idea presents well and the group "gets" it very quickly and can understand how it can be fun. The quicker that process, the better the game. If the project doesn't communicate well at that stage, people have a hard time understanding how it could be fun, or three guys listening to it have three different visions as to why it could be fun, then those are the games that tend to have problems when they hit the shelves. So I've always tried to focus on games that translate well very quickly. You know, an elevator pitch. [smiles]

GS: Can you think of a game that didn't translate well and had problems?

TN: I don't want to say too much about the games I don't feel too comfortable with! [laughs] Even if I don't say, if you look at the games we've made that haven't done well, they've all had some problems at that pitch stage. So as a creator and a businessperson, I've learned how to separate the amount of emotional energy that I put into a game versus its commercial results. I have learned how to take the commercial results very respectfully and absorb that feedback from the market.

GS: How long did it take you to learn that?

TN: Hmm. I think that just to not be very emotional about the sales results probably took 10 years. [laughs]

GS: What have you seen on the market that has struck you as interesting game design?

TN: Pikmin for the GameCube from Nintendo.

GS: Anything else?

TN: Well, there are good games out there, and there are games that are well constructed, but Pikmin is a game that I really like. I think Nintendo did well in challenging a new area. I respect that a lot, and they executed it well.

GS: As a businessperson with your own company, how challenging is it to do business in Japan these days with the state of the economy?

TN: It's probably affected the overall run rates, but good games still sell and bad games still don't sell. Since that's pretty much the same, I don't worry too much about the economic stuff.

GS: Is there a genre that you would like to develop in but haven't yet?

TN: I think the real answer to that question is, "Come to E3 and check it out." [laughs] If I reveal the genre, you should get an image of the game I'm making. Obviously we're doing new titles. But rather than the genre, how to execute that genre, and how to execute it in a new and different way, is a very important challenge for me right now.

GS: What's more important to you as a developer? Creating something original or refining something that already exists to perfection?

TN: I think both challenges are very important--they both deserve a place in any game group. But if you ask, fundamentally, who I am and which side I fall on, I would have to say that I stay on the "creating something completely new" side. That seems to be a much more natural way for me to operate.

GS: Thanks for your time.

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