Sonic Team's Phantasy Star Online has enjoyed brisk sales since its release in Japan. In fact, Sega of Japan recently announced that nearly 100,000 registered users in Japan are currently enjoying the game online. With the game's recent release in North America and subsequent release in Europe, Yuji Naka, director of Sonic Team, hopes that his vision of creating a worldwide networked game is finally being realized. The game uses a server-based lobby system and intuitive communication protocols that allow PSO players from all three regions to get online and communicate seamlessly with other players over Sega's networks.
Yuji Naka and the other members of Sonic Team have joined the growing number of users who are enjoying the first worldwide networked console RPG. In fact, he frequently goes online to play PSO, and he uses his given name for his character. During our latest interview with Naka, he told us that the easiest way to find him in a PSO lobby is to look for characters that have blue chat bubbles, instead of the standard white bubbles--this signifies a member of the PSO development team.
Our entire interview with Yuji Naka, where he discusses the development of Phantasy Star Online and his current development project, Sonic Adventure 2, follows. The full video interview is available in the media section below.
GameSpot: When did you begin development on Phantasy Star Online? Was it during the development of Sonic Adventure, or afterwards?
Yuji Naka: Right after Sonic Adventure was done, we started experiments for the network. So, including the experiments that began right after the completion of Sonic Adventure, Phantasy Star Online has been in development for two years.
GS: What challenges did you face in developing a networked game like Phantasy Star Online?
YN: As far as creating a network game for the Internet--you can basically connect to the Internet from anywhere in the world--the first challenge we faced was that of language. So, the first thing that we tried to figure out was how to get across the language barrier for everyone connected to the Internet.
GS: Why decide to do an online role-playing game in the first place, instead of a traditional RPG?
YN: What we set out to make was a game that would get people to communicate with each other and cooperate. In order to do that, we had to take it online. So, that is why it is online. From the Phantasy Star series we borrowed the worldview and the fact that it is a science fiction role-playing game, but that is pretty much where our influences from Phantasy Star end. We decided not to bring the storyline or any of that across.
GS: So, are there plans to do a more traditional role-playing game?
YN: You mean not online?
GS: Yes, perhaps not online, but with a more traditional Phantasy Star story and with the characters. Is that something you would want to do in the future?
YN: No, I don't think I'll make that. If I make something similar, it will probably be something new.
GS: The success of PSO in Japan, as an online game, does that encourage you to make more networked games?
YN: I think that Phantasy Star Online is doing really well in Japan now, in terms of people coming together over the network--communicating and cooperating. I am really looking forward to that happening on a worldwide level from here on out. So, if that does happen and Phantasy Star Online is a success, then I am looking forward to making other games like that as well.
GS: In the making of Sonic Adventure, Sonic Team visited a lot of different areas like Aztec temples and places like that. Did you get to do that this time around? And what are some of the places that you got to visit?
YN: Like you said, we visited different places with the first game, but we haven't done that this time. Instead, we've taken the whole development team and moved them to San Francisco. So, in that sense we are working in the environment of the game. If you look at the Sonic Adventure 2 demo disc [available with the release of Phantasy Star Online] you'll see that the San Francisco environment is in there as well.
GS: The original Sonic Adventure had large adventure areas that led into action sequences. Will that be the case in the sequel?
YN: It will be different this time. It will probably be a little bit more action-oriented.
GS: As far as the Sonic character, will he move into other genres? You did the two Sonic Adventure games and went into a different genre with Sonic Shuffle, but do you plan to release new games in many different genres?
YN: Since this is Sonic the Hedgehog's tenth-anniversary, I would like to see Sonic trying new and different things. So, it may be possible to see him doing something completely different.
GS: We'll look forward to that. Thank you for speaking with us.
YN: Thank you.