Wow Entertainment interview

We talk with Sega developer Wow Entertainment about its upcoming GBA, GameCube, and Xbox titles.

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While Wow Entertainment is a new name in the gaming industry--it was officially christened a short while ago when Sega's various teams were spun off from the main company--its work speaks for itself. Originally known as AM1, Wow has amassed an impressive body of work over the years. Its arcade titles include the House of the Dead series, Sega Bass Fishing, Sega Strike Fighter, Wild Riders, Vampire Night (for which it teamed up with Namco), and a dog-walking sim. Its recent console offerings have included Sports Jam, Alien Front Online, Sega Bass Fishing 2, and the upcoming Vampire Night port for the PlayStation 2. In addition, given Sega's new business model, the company will be branching out to develop on all gaming platforms. House of the Dead 3 is on its way to the Xbox, and a new version of the Sega puzzler Columns, dubbed Columns Crown, will find its way to the Game Boy Advance soon.

We were able to chat with President and CEO Rikiya Nakagawa at Wow's offices in Shibuya about Wow's current plans for multiconsole development. Thanks to Rikiya Nakagawa, Noriko Yamada, Takuya Tsunomura, Shinobu Shindo, Yusuke Suai, and Gwen Marker for their time.

GameSpot: Why did you decide to develop for the Game Boy Advance?

Rikiya Nakagawa: Sega was a hardware maker, and we had to support our hardware. So it was a dream of ours to make games for handhelds.

GS: What kind of support will Wow give the Game Boy Advance?

RN: We are working on two titles for the GBA at this point.

GS: In addition to Columns or including it?

RN: Including.

GS: What is the other game?

RN: A pinball type of game based on the House of the Dead world. It's still in development.

GS: How long did it take to develop Columns Crown for the GBA?

RN: Almost six months.

GS: What were your goals when making Columns Crown for the GBA?

RN: Additional features, which are so important. Arcade games let you play just one game for three minutes on one coin. But consumer games require [players] to pay some amount of money. So, to satisfy them, we have to add variety to the game.

GS: So will you have a set plan for supporting the GBA?

RN: At the moment, we can do a lot of things for a lot of hardware. We're currently doing two titles for GBA, but it may change depending on the situation.

GS: What's it like working with the GBA hardware?

RN: Well, the advantage of the hardware is that players can take it anywhere, so we want to make a game that's easy to play anywhere, like an airplane, hotel, and [places] like that. And [since] the GBA has the potential to be connected to the GameCube, making one or two games for the GBA will be a good study to understand the potential for a GameCube game.

GS: Speaking of the GameCube, is Wow working on anything for that console?

RN: What I can tell you right now is that Wow is now working on two titles for the GameCube. I think you'll hear something on [one of] these in the future. The other is in the beginning development stage, so I can't talk about it.

GS: But these are original titles?

RN: Yes.

GS: How would you feel about porting over some of your arcade games? Wild Riders, for example.

RN: Well, talking about Wild Riders, a direct [port] from the original arcade game is not so appealing for the consumer market. So if Wow really makes consumer games based on WR, we'll have to spend a lot of resources to think about giving it additional features. So we're considering it, but we're not sure if we'll do it.

GS: How will you balance arcade and home console game development? Or are you focusing only on one of them?

RN: As you know, Wow is now working on various hardware and porting to home consoles. I just don't want to settle on one platform because we want to do a lot of things. We want to have flexibility. A puzzle game, for example, would be a good title for a portable system or home console. But an arcade game may not be as good a fit if you do a direct conversion for the home console, because home console games need a lot of additional consumer modes. So when I select each game and the platform it would be on, I want flexibility.

GS: Will consoles influence the content you develop? For example, would you develop a title like Vampire Night for a system like the GameCube, which may have a younger audience than most consoles?

RN: I think we'll have a lot of options when choosing which platform is appropriate for our game. We'll start out with a game, then review it and choose which platform would be a better fit. If it is a more adult title like Vampire Night, it wouldn't be for the GameCube. That's not to say we have to make childish games for the GameCube. We could make games parents and children could play together.

GS: What do you think of the quality of games coming out in the game industry?

RN: I think the current situation is serious. You see the same genres in the market, and there have been no new types of games so far. Although advanced technology hardware is out there, the software isn't keeping up, so people are still enjoying games but aren't always interested in buying those games.

GS: When developing a game, what's important to you, to do something completely new or do something creative in an existing genre?

RN: Of course creating something new is a kind of mission for us from the beginning of a game. Re-creating something is less interesting, but, if you do that, you need to add some improvements, graphics, sound, and so on for players. Some players don't want something totally new, though. If something is good quality, they don't need something totally new.

GS: How do you balance creative freedom with making a game that will appeal to consumers and sell well?

RN: Until now, Wow has established steady brands like House of the Dead and our baseball game. Those brands are steady and get us money. [laughs] So that means from now on we start creating innovative games.

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

RN: I'm a big fan of every Mario game. At this time, I play the Super Nintendo most often. I have every hardware out, but I always come back to the SNES.

GS: Would you ever want do a Mario-type game?

RN: Of course I'd want to make one, but our game would have to find a way to surpass Mario in some way. But we have to find it first before making it.

GS: So many of your games have a realistic element to them. How important is that for you to include?

RN: We've learned a lot creating those realistic, technical technologies and can challenge ourselves now to do comical things. But even if we make a game for children or casual gamers, it's very important that the game contains very realistic, minute detail. It may look casual, but at its core, it is hard and technical. In the past, Sega fans have enjoyed those types of games.

GS: How big is Wow?

RN: One hundred and twenty people or so. We have seven or eight internal teams, and we use outside companies sometimes.

GS: How are you handling multiconsole development? What's the development breakdown?

RN: Currently, we are developing two titles for the GameCube, two titles for the Xbox, and two or three for the PS2.

GS: What will Wow's last Dreamcast title be?

RN: We just finished Sega Bass Fishing 2, which will be the last Dreamcast game.

GS: How has Wow gone about preparing for multiconsole development?

RN: We wanted to do everything. We have very good technical people. So we started creating graphics libraries that were compatible for all the platforms. If something is done on the Xbox, it can be converted to the GameCube and PS2. Originally, we made a library based on the Naomi board, then upgraded it to the Naomi 2, and then expanded it. We can now use it with all the consoles.

GS: All your development tools are custom, then?

RN: Yes. Basically, it's so simple to convert to other platforms that the most important thing is taking advantage of the different potential of each platform. Such differences should be done by the software application.

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

RN: Well, as I mentioned before, we have already established some strong brands, so we want to keep those. But on the other hand, based on that income, we'd like to take on some new challenges like networking and mobile technologies, GameCube titles, and Game Boy Advance titles. We'd like to introduce games that have never been seen before. I think Wow has tried its hand at almost every kind of game, so we could do just about anything at this point. So we have to challenge ourselves to do something new in the future.

GS: How important is networking in your future titles?

RN: Currently, fans who enjoy network games are hard-core gamers. I think it's because network play is from PC culture. I would want to make a network game that was casual and would utilize the network feature for gameplay.

GS: Can you tell us anything about House of the Dead 3?

RN: For House of the Dead 3, the setting is now New York City. So the action is in New York, and the player will shoot them up with a shotgun. The graphics will be a little different from the previous two games. It's a bit lighter. It's still scary, but it's a little comical. We're making it for the Xbox as well.

GS: So the shotgun is the only weapon?

RN: Right, it's the only weapon. And the arcade cabinet has a shotgun type of gun.

GS: What is the arcade hardware it's being developed on?

RN: Naomi 2.

GS: Once upon a time, HOTD3 was announced as a DC title. Is it still in development?

RN: A Dreamcast version is not being developed. The arcade version is Naomi 2, and the Dreamcast wouldn't be able to duplicate the experience.

GS: Thanks for your time.

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